Category Archives: Democracy

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.

Pakistan’s Limited Opportunities in Afghanistan

Syed Sharfuddin*

A lot has been written about the strategic milestones in the history of Pakistan concerning the events of 1948, 1962, 1965, 1971, 1988, 1999 and 2019 involving the disputed status of Indian occupied Kashmir and relations with the US, China, India and Afghanistan. Some say that there were many lost opportunities in these events which could have benefited the country immensely had there been a serious and united effort to play them wisely. The other view is that Pakistan should have kept its head down and invested in the economy in order to become a strong power before playing a role above its weight in foreign and regional affairs. There can be books written on both viewpoints and indeed a majority of commentators are found strongly wedded to either the first or the second view, with few willing to hold the middle ground.

The withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan in 2021 is both good and bad news for those who are directly affected by Washington’s decision to no longer continue to underwrite US dollar cheques for the long Afghan war. The reason why Washington seems to have lost the will to continue to fund this war is because it reached a dead end making it necessary to turn back or else face more troop losses. The US backed the wrong horse in Afghanistan right from the start and abandoned the Taliban who may not have been the good guys in its view, but they represented the will of the Afghan people not to be brushed away as a rag tag fringe of Pashtun tribesmen reflecting a high degree of independence and perseverance. Washington’s mistake was to liken Taliban with Al-Qaeda and treat them like ISIS or Boko Haram. The Afghan Taliban did not subscribe to the ideology of those extreme terrorist groups. They wanted to be left alone in their country without any outside power imposing its non-Islamic ideology on their beliefs. They were and remain a force to reckon with. Any country ignoring or refusing to deal with them as serious interlocutors in the Afghan peace process will be repeating the same mistake the US made causing it to lose a war for the second time after Vietnam in the 1970s.

Pakistan cannot isolate itself from Afghanistan’s uncertain future. It cannot afford to let other countries or groups fill in the vacuum created by the withdrawal of US forces in Afghanistan and foment instability in the region. A superpower has lost Afghanistan. Period. It does not mean Pakistan should lose Afghanistan too. But Pakistan’s options in Afghanistan are limited. They are also tightly time bound. If Pakistan does not act in time it may miss the window of opportunity it now has before others get in Afghanistan first to bridge the gap. No one has greater interest than Pakistan in ensuring that precious lives are not lost in Afghanistan and lasting peace prevails in South West Asia. This is not just hope but an achievable objective, provided effort is made to take advantage of the opportunity knocking at the door. Ignore it once and the knock will be gone away to another door.

It is only possible when a government in Afghanistan, indigenously represented and popularly elected with Pashtun majority is friendly to Pakistan and does not allow any third power or proxy to threaten Pakistan from across the border. If a civil war breaks out in Afghanistan between the Taliban on one side and the Afghan government forces on the other side, Pakistan should not be a silent spectator waiting to deal with its ugly consequences in the form of refugees and other proxies pursuing their own agendas in the conflict. If such a situation evolves, Pakistani troops should cross the international border on humanitarian grounds to prevent a blood bath of brother by brother in Afghanistan in an absolutely unnecessary civil war.

People often get scared whenever the word invasion is mentioned. It is true that invasion and occupation are F words in international politics, but this is ultimately what works to fix problems. Otherwise they liger on to become protracted conflicts like Syria, South Sudan, Iraq or Somalia causing untold misery for the people of these lands. How else one should call an intervention carried out to defend your vital security and national interest. This is what India would do if there was bloody unrest and divided militias in Nepal, Sikkim or Bhutan. They already invaded East Pakistan in 1971 on the pretext of humanitarian intervention. At that time, the major powers and the UN stood silent watching India violate the international norms of non-interference in the internal affairs of another country. This is what Russia would do in Ukraine. This is what was done in Bosnia and Kosovo while the UN stood helpless. This is what the US did in the Bay of Piggs under Kennedy, in Grenada under Reagan and will do again in any Latin American country which falls under its zone of influence if US interests are threatened there. This is why Iraq was invaded when the West was worried about the so called WMDs. This is what Israel would do today in Jordan or Lebanon or Egypt if things went bad there for Israel. A humanitarian military intervention is justified in international law if there are no options left to prevent bloodshed in a conflict state and establish stability and peace other than the use of force.

There are some important shot term objectives Pakistan should have on the plans before taking a timely humanitarian step, if necessary.

The first objective should be that the present government of Afghanistan must go. It has lost legitimacy after its backers have packed up and left, providing sufficient reason for fresh elections to be called in Afghanistan in the next three to six months. These elections should be conducted under a neutral caretaker government of national unity. In the new elections, all Afghans parties and groups, including the Taliban should be allowed to participate without any restrictions. Pakistan has good experience of caretaker governments. It can assist the Afghan electoral commission by providing technical assistance and security through its armed forces. Those in power in Kabul will not like such help but they know too well that they will not be able to form the next government if the next Afghan elections are free and fair and allow Taliban to participate in them. The current Afghan government may prefer instead to fight the Taliban head on. If this happens, Afghanistan could well become Libya with a weak government fighting a stronger military force for its survival at the cost of the people and the country.

A serious consequence of such development will be that this weak government could invite India to send troops to Kabul and other government-controlled cities to provide enhanced security to its buildings and security installations, thereby making it possible for India to do what it has not been able to do during the presence of US the troops, i.e. establish its military presence in Afghanistan just as it did in Kashmir 1948 and in East Pakistan in 1971. While it is true that the Taliban will not allow India to replace the US in Afghanistan, nothing could be done internationally if a government requests another country for military help to defeat what it calls internal insurgency. Turkey is providing military help to the government of Libya which is recognised internationally but it is so weak that it cannot defend its own territory against the military forces of General Haftar who has his own supporters and arms suppliers internationally. The result is a prolonged miserable period of death and uncertainty for the people of Libya and the regular influx of refugees heading to the EU from the North African region.

It has been a long drawn plan of India to squeeze Pakistan in a pincer movement from the East and West militarily in order to fast track its agenda of destabilising Pakistan by organising terrorist activities in Pakistan and actively manipulating separatist outfits in Baluchistan, including reviving the old Pashtunistan stunt on the basis that that the Durand Line Agreement signed between Sir Mortimore Durand, Foreign Secretary of British India and Amir Abdur Rehman of Afghanistan in 1893 which established the border between the two states is a colonial arrangement which does not represent the international border and should be renegotiated to take into consideration territory which included Afghanistan’s old expanded border in West Asia. If this happens, Pakistan will simply be a sitting duck in a reactive mode instead of shaping events and leading fresh initiatives. In fact, there is a real prospect of such a scenario playing out in the event of a civil war in Afghanistan breaking out, which will provide India more space in shaping events. Not doing anything about it now to prevent such a scenario will be the costliest missed opportunity so far in the political history of Pakistan.

There are rumours that the Afghan government and its supporters have approached Turkey for military help to fight the Taliban. It is a smart move. The US would be happy to see a NATO ally keep the status quo in Afghanistan without requiring US troops to be involved in peacekeeping. It would also neutralise Pakistan and prevent the Taliban achieved their aim of capturing Kabul sooner than anticipated. Pakistan has good relations with Turkey. It should advise Turkey that getting involved in Afghanistan to save the government in Kabul will not bring peace to an already volatile country. A peaceful solution lies in calling fresh elections under a neutral arrangement to allow the people of Afghanistan to choose their leaders without predetermined outcomes.

The second objective of Pakistan should be to openly back Taliban’s return to the peaceful political process and participation in the next elections in Afghanistan. They should get a fair share in the governance of the country in proportion to their representation in the population. Kabul’s current leadership does not trust Taliban. It also does not trust Pakistan. The present Administration in Kabul prefers to engage with India more closely, including in defence and economic fields. Pakistan’s natural ally in Afghanistan is Taliban. No one should be under the impression that a government in Afghanistan which does not include the Taliban will be stable or friendly to Pakistan.

The UN, NATO and US are aware that it is not easy to bring peace in Afghanistan. This is because they backed the wrong horse in Afghanistan and never admitted their mistake. This wrong horse was Taliban. Pakistan never considered Taliban as the wrong horse. They were a valuable force which could be trained and tamed. Pakistan should reap the benefit of building trust with the Taliban. It should openly support the Taliban because they don’t like India’s growing influence in Afghanistan. India will find ways to exploit the nationalistic feelings of Afghan Uzbeks, Tajiks and Hazaras, but it cannot win over the Taliban after openly supporting the foreign backed governments of Afghanistan against the Taliban for over a decade. It is true that India too has its Taliban mercenaries to clandestinely carryout terrorist operations in Pakistan, more so on the military, police and government installations, but India’s relationship with such elements is not ideological. It is linked with the chaos that prevails in Afghanistan and the purse that pays for their mercenary services. Once the ground and the money run out, India will not be able to recruit these mercenaries. India is aware of this handicap. That’s why India is firmly backing the present Afghan government against Taliban. This month India supplied two plane loads of ammunition to the puppet Afghan government to kill more Taliban. This will undoubtedly result in more Taliban deaths and their retaliation, causing further bloodshed.

Pakistan should also brace for a fresh wave of terrorist attacks from across its Western border. The objective of such attacks, which have already started to take place lately in Baluchistan and KPK is to keep the Pakistani military preoccupied with its security issues inside Pakistan, and also divert attention away from Afghanistan’s problems. Pakistan should deepen its exchange of intelligence information with China on all security threat. China’s interest in CPEC warrants that its personnel and investments committed to the infrastructure projects in Pakistan are safe and free from interruption.

India is looking for an excuse to side-line Pakistan’s influence in Afghanistan and either fill the governance vacuum itself or get the UN to declare an international mandate like in Palestine in 1947, in order to deny Afghan people their right to determine their destiny freely and peacefully by the ballot box. What an irony that the so-called world’s largest democracy is active to undermine the democratic process in Afghanistan to keep its interests alive there. There is also a lesson for Pakistan to learn in this irony.

The non-Pushto speaking minority Afghan groups in Afghanistan think that Pakistan is responsible for the problems of their country. They have been fed this propaganda in Tajik, Uzbek, Persian and Hazara communities for over a decade. They have come to believe in this propaganda as a fact. By keeping the majority of Pashtun Talibans out of the political process, it is not possible to ensure lasting peace in their country. With the US troops gone, these groups will hopefully appreciate the value of democracy in which ethnic minorities have guaranteed rights under the constitution and can be part of the rich inclusive diversity of Afghanistan.

The view that after American withdrawal and end of foreign occupation in August, Afghanistan will be an independent and sovereign state and we should deal with that country as such is only as good as a pipe dream. It won’t be realised without working hard for it. If it were that easy, Afghanistan would have been a peaceful country long ago, given the engineering done by ISAF, NATO and the US in Afghanistan, reinforced by military and diplomatic activity and further talks in Doha, Tehran and other third countries. These passive and do-nothing views should be totally ignored while plans are drawn to take the required action.

The US troops withdrawal is still a month away. In this sensitive period Taliban need some good counsel at state level to start doing PR and image building in Afghanistan. They are doing the right thing filling up the military vacuum but they are not active on the political and diplomatic front to reassure public that they have changed since the days of their first controversial government in Afghanistan. They have not capitalised on their amnesty call. They have not given a roadmap of what a foreign troops free Afghanistan will be like. They have not issued a manifesto of what their government will do in the first 365 days. They should not come like a storm and upset everything like a tornado. They should learn a lesson from Muslim Brotherhood, the party of Mohammed Morsi which was big on celebrating the departure of Hosni Mubarak (who was ironically one of their own Egyptians) but it was short on confidence building with Egyptians. MB was too fast and too intimidating for its critics. The fire cracker ended soon after it was lighted. It was sound and fury signifying nothing. The Taliban should not repeat this in order to make Afghanistan a peaceful and free country after many decades.


Pakistan can also assist Afghanistan attain peace by actively assisting the new Afghan government, post-election, in disarmament, demobilisation and rehabilitation of ex-combatants in the Afghan society as useful citizens. Many generations of Afghans, including the Taliban have grown up under the shadow of improvised explosive devices, automatic machine guns and indiscriminately attacking drones. They need to be reintegrated back into the Afghan society and given useful skills to earn their living in dignity and peace. After peace is established thousands of ex-combatants would need psychological counselling and psychiatric treatment. Pakistan can help in this because its doctors speak Afghan languages. Pakistan can help create and train a strong Afghan defence force comprising all Afghan ethnic forces and offer them training courses in its institutions. Pakistan can also help Afghanistan in writing a new constitution for the new Islamic Republic and help with technical assistance for institution building in civil services and criminal justice system. The peace dividend will help both Afghanistan and Pakistan grow naturally without third parties eying their minerals and natural resources and finding excuses to foment trouble. Afghanistan’s future depends on the prosperity of Pakistan. An Afghanistan with expanded CPEC projects will have much more to offer to its own nationals than to the nationals of third countries. So far everyone has made quick silver in the name of Afghanistan, except the Afghans themselves. It is time for battle fatigued Afghans to write their own future in peace, with Pakistan standing by them as a friend in the same way as China stands with Pakistan in all weathers.



*The author Syed Sharfuddin is a former diplomat and a former Special Adviser for Political Affairs in the Commonwealth Secretariat, UK (2000-2006). He is also a former ex-officio board member of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission, UK Chapter.

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.

Coming of a Prophesy?

By Syed Sharfuddin

عَنْ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عُمَرَ أَنّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ يَا مَعْشَرَ الْمُهَاجِرِينَ خَمْسٌ إِذَا ابْتُلِيتُمْ بِهِنَّ وَأَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ تُدْرِكُوهُنَّ لَمْ تَظْهَرْ الْفَاحِشَةُ فِي قَوْمٍ قَطُّ حَتَّى يُعْلِنُوا بِهَا إِلَّا فَشَا فِيهِمْ الطَّاعُونُ وَالْأَوْجَاعُ الَّتِي لَمْ تَكُنْ مَضَتْ فِي أَسْلَافِهِمْ الَّذِينَ مَضَوْا وَلَمْ يَنْقُصُوا الْمِكْيَالَ وَالْمِيزَانَ إِلَّا أُخِذُوا بِالسِّنِينَ وَشِدَّةِ الْمَئُونَةِ وَجَوْرِ السُّلْطَانِ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَمْ يَمْنَعُوا زَكَاةَ أَمْوَالِهِمْ إِلَّا مُنِعُوا الْقَطْرَ مِنْ السَّمَاءِ وَلَوْلَا الْبَهَائِمُ لَمْ يُمْطَرُوا وَلَمْ يَنْقُضُوا عَهْدَ اللَّهِ وَعَهْدَ رَسُولِهِ إِلَّا سَلَّطَ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ عَدُوًّا مِنْ غَيْرِهِمْ فَأَخَذُوا بَعْضَ مَا فِي أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا لَمْ تَحْكُمْ أَئِمَّتُهُمْ بِكِتَابِ اللَّهِ وَيَتَخَيَّرُوا مِمَّا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ إِلَّا جَعَلَ اللَّهُ بَأْسَهُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ

Translation: Ibn Umar reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “O Muhajeroon, there are 5 things with which you will be tested with and I seek refuge in Allah that you will live to see them. I) Promiscuity will become widespread among people and for that, they will be afflicted by plagues and diseases that were unknown to their forefathers. 2) They will cheat in weights and measures and for that they will be struck with famine, calamity, and the oppression of rulers. 3) They will withhold charity from their wealth and for that rain will be withheld from the sky, and were it not for the animals, there would be no rain at all. 4) They will break their covenant with Allah and His messenger and for that Allah will enable their enemies to overpower them and take away what is in their hands. 5) Their leaders will not rule according to the Law of Allah and derive no benefit from what Allah has revealed, and for that Allah will cause them to become enemies of each other.” [Source: 1.KItab Al-Fitan, Sunan Ibn Majah 4019. 2. Al Muhaddis Al Bani Khulasa Hukum Al-muhaddas Sahih fi Sahih Al Jame: 7978].

This Hadith is supported by Surah-Al-Suaara in the Quran where the social habits and commissions of eight different nations have been narrated which were akin to the above transgressions in different measures. Allah’s sent His Messengers to guide each nation, but most of them refused to accept the divine guidance and instead chose to face the consequences which led to their destruction and end.

It is not a secret that in the global Muslim community all of the above signs exist with such great clarity that no explanation is required to elaborate on the condition of the Muslim community living in Islamic countries. Ironically this community has the world’s greatest manpower, natural and mineral resources and a rich cultural heritage. Yet, nearly all the on-going conflicts in the world involve Muslims, either as aggressors or partners of aggressors, or as victims of conflicts, whether as refugees or communities caught in the crossfire. Intra-Islamic conflict costs Muslims thousands of lives and dollars every year with no end in sight. Leaders in the Islamic world remain autocratic or are terribly inefficient when elected in democracies. The economic condition of these countries, despite abundant resources, is dependent on external forces.

There is rampant under-development, unequal distribution of wealth, enormous disparities in welfare and social safety nets, and absence of justice and opportunity for the common man. Most of the Muslim leaders are not truly independent as they depend on external powers for political legitimacy and control. And finally, in the health and food security sector Islamic countries are often hit by famines and locust swarms, rendering millions at the mercy of international aid agencies. As if all this was not enough, the coronavirus pandemic is knocking on their doors after taking nearly 100,000 lives in China, Europe and the Americas.

I am not a doomsday advocate but I can say for sure that the pandemic of coronavirus has changed our world in a way we never imagined in our wildest dreams. How could anyone predict that a tiny little virus, which does not have a life of its own, could force a global lockdown and send the economies of many developed countries nosedive into recession at a level not seen since the Second World War.

On the ethical level, the pandemic of coronavirus is the reality of the world we have constructed since the last major pandemic, known as the Spanish Flu of 1918. In our cultural advancement and technological revolutions, we are helpless when confronted with the mysteries of nature. We pay lip service to human solidarity but at the same time we like the idea of nation-state to be divided into races, faiths, ethnic identities. We just don’t stop there; we also like to classified into nationalist groups, social orders and gender types. After doing away with the Berlin wall, which symbolised division, we embarked upon the grand project of constructing walls on our national borders in order to prevent the less unfortunate come to our homes and share our cakes and ale; and we have named our project a necessary measure for national security and economic prosperity.

We have divided ourselves into groups of rich nations and poor nations; those who have veto power at the UN on matters of global peace and security and those who have to comply with the decisions made by a minority over majority; and we decide in select chambers who would have peace and who should face conflict and destruction. We have built warships and air shields to defend ourselves from nuclear threat but we have not learnt the lesson from the past hurricanes that devastated the Philippines or earthquakes which raised to ground Haiti that when disaster strikes, it does not differentiate between people: black or white, rich or poor, young or old, sick or healthy, the faithful or those having no faith. Our problem is that as long as a UFO does not hit us, it does not exist. When China was fighting the coronavirus in the end of 2019, the rest of the world did not care. Business was as usual until it became unusual on our turf three months later in 2020.

On the religious level, the Pundits, Priests, Rabbis and Imams have been saying that we should not accuse coronavirus of harshness. For the orthodox communities, coronavirus is simply following the orders of the Supreme Lord who released it to teach humanity a lesson for discarding His message of compassion, peace, mercy, kindness and good behaviour. The world had steered away from the divine script and sought to change the laws of nature by tinkering with the genetic code of life of humans and animals; developing harmful weapons and chemicals; polluting our earth and space with industrial effluent, toxic waste and dangerous gasses; installing countless satellites in space and creating infinite electro-magnetic fields and rays which penetrate human body seemingly doing no harm to it externally; rewriting the codes of social behaviour and taking end of life decisions based on economic forecasts and actuarial algorithms. In April, during the commemoration of Passover, Good Friday and the start of Ramadan, thousands of faithful begged to the Lord Almighty in individual and congregational prayers to forgive the commissions of man and save the world from further destruction and collapse.

On a scientific level, virologists and epidemiologists said this is a phenomenon which repeats itself in cycles in all epochs; more recently it was SARS, then came MERS and now covid-19. As soon as a vaccine is found, it too will become extinct. Humanity pays a price for every learning curve and the present death toll is unfortunate but an inevitable part of human advancement. As of writing this piece, several countries have begun research on different vaccines, which will enter human trials as soon as the necessary regulatory approvals have been secured.

On a political level, world leaders were focused on the coronavirus in the context of saving the lives of their nationals and reversing the steep decline of their national economies.  According to estimates, the global economic growth forecast is registering between 4 to 6% decline in the GDP of Europe and other countries by the end of the first quarter of the year threatening a global recession. Every country is counting its dead daily as if keeping a track of the goals scored at the football world cup. How long this macabre scene will last, no one knows.

It is becoming clear that in a post covid-19 world, a new international order will be redrawn by the powerful countries taking into account the lessons learnt from the performance of totalitarian regimes and free democracies in dealing with the current pandemic. But let it not be a repeat of the post world war 2 arrangement where only the victors decided an international order for the rest of the world and imposed their conventions on every state to follow without consulting their peoples. It is interesting that the Bretton Woods System and the establishment of the League of Nations, the precursor of the UN, predate the independence of many Afro-Asian countries which became independent as part of the decolonisation process and had to accept many international conventions and protocols which pre-dated their independence.

We should not forget that the country most effective in containing the coronavirus disease is not a free democracy (China) and that the democracies which take pride in their liberal institutions (the US & EU) have not done well in stopping this disease, nor the global recession that is predicted to engulf the world in the remainder of 2020. Therefore the creation of a new international order will need to take into account the fine balance between political totalitarianism and free market economy as both have shown to have different strengths. China saved its nationals from coronavirus deaths to a considerable level despite being the most populous nation on earth, while Italy, the US, Spain, France and the UK could not do so with equal haste and efficiency.

In the new international order the role of international institutions should also be critically reviewed. Rules need to be redrafted to make these institutions more credible and more democratised. The inability of the UN to prevent conflicts, refugee flows and disaster mitigation, and of the WHO to predict and prevent this pandemic have already come under strong scrutiny. Part of the reason for their underperformance is that the rich and powerful countries have stopped taking global institutions seriously. Some developed countries, notably the US, have used their high contributions as a tool to politicise multilateral decision-making in their favour.

A unipolar world will not suit the new international order. It should not be an order where a country decides to limit export of a medicine needed by its population to treat the symptoms of a disease but reverses its decision after receiving a phone call from another powerful country threatening of ‘consequences’ if the shipment of the medicine were stopped due to its national interest. It should not be an order where the owner of a natural resource in not the country where it is based, but another more powerful country which has the ability to destroy it, if its terms are not accepted. It should not be an international order where the raw material from a country is exported in cents per metric ton but after processing, it is imported by the same country in Dollars per metric ton.

Countries should put together their own protocols and policies based on thought provoking ideas and social requirements. The world has changed and especially the poor and disadvantaged will suffer most in all aspects of their daily lives. We are all in the same boat no matter where we come from and what we believe in. In a strange way, isolationism has become the key word for human survival in a globalised world.

The lesson from the coronavirus disease is poignant. It is the new mantra of “survival of the fittest” in humanity’s post-modern evolution. It implies that if you haven’t got the strength as an individual or as a nation to beat the new pressures that confront you, the lease for your survival in a highly competitive world will soon run out. Is the world prepared for this grim scenario? Certainly not, because humanity demands that in the march of civilisation we take our weak and vulnerable along with us, even if we have to pick them on our shoulders.

اللهم إني أعوذ بك من السلب بعد العطاء ومن الشدة بعد الرخاء ومن الفقر بعد الغنى ومن الكفر بعد الإيمان

Say: O God, I seek refuge in You from taking away the goodness after you have given, from hardship after prosperity, from poverty after wealth, and from unbelief after faith.

April 9, 2020.

Seven Ways to Strengthen a Federation

By Syed Sharfuddin
In order to strengthen the federation of a pluralistic state (multi-ethnic and multi lingual population) where minority communities (sub-nationalities) are often distrustful of the majority and end up shouting human rights violations and organising protests every now and then, the following political arrangements may be useful for enhancing the unity and cohesion of the state.

1-The post of President of the federation should be rotated among all federating units. The President should be appointed for a two year term. Malaysia follows this practice for appointing its monarchs by rotation.

2-The post of Governor of each federating unit should be rotated among representatives of its constituent districts. Governors should also serve a two year term. This will enable political representation of smaller nationalities in a province.

3-Each constituting unit of the federation should contribute manpower at the rate of 25% of its active defence forces comprising the army, navy, airforce and para military personnel. This will take away the grievance of smaller units that the military is dominated by personnel from the majority province.

4-Each constituent unit of the federation should draw a target of financing 10,000 inter-linguistic and inter-provincial marriages of its eligible youth each year. Free marriages will result in integrating diverse groups in the national stream.

5-All men in the federation should have razor cut bald heads and married men should wear rings (right hand finger #2); and all women of the federation should wear fresh flowers on their ears (right ear for unmarried women and left ear for married women). This will create a true national identity and national pride in the people.

6-On the National Day of the country the state should serve free soup and bread to all its citizens through soup kitchens and panahgahs. This will encourage people to go out of their homes and participate in national events without worrying about putting a meal on the table in the evening.

7-On the Independence Day of the country (If different from its national day) every family should cook vegetable biryani and kheer and send it to its immediate neighbour family to deepen brotherhood and friendship among people. This will create good vibes and enable people to get to know their neighbours better.

Size Matters: A Case for Enlarging the Composition of Pakistan Parliament

By Syed Sharfuddin*

The structure of state governance in modern times with few exceptions comprises the executive, the legislature and the judiciary each of which are independent of each other to the extent possible according to the system of government followed in a country. Pakistan’s system of governance is parliamentary democracy modelled after the British Westminster Democracy and codified in the 1973 Constitution with all its amendments up to date.

It is said that dictatorships and oligarchies are more efficient and cost effective in delivering political governance compared to representative democracies because the former do not need to follow the requirement of consulting the people except those in position of power. But democracies by their very nature require wider public engagement and consultation. They go through a lengthy process of political debate and enact legislation through a cumbersome legislative process requiring many readings of bills and presidential assent. Their decisions, whether in cabinet or in parliament, are ideally reached by consensus and failing this, by majority vote.

The same principle applies to small and large legislatures. It is easy to enact laws and exercise oversight function by a small legislature compared to a large people’s assembly which is neither cost effective to elect, nor easy to manage and service. But just as democracy is a political necessity for the smooth governance, peace and political stability of a state, a larger legislature is also a necessity for a country, and more so in a federation, which is home to diverse ethnic, linguistic and/or religious populations and regions.

While cost may be one discouraging factor against a larger legislature, there are other mitigating factors, such as confusion and deadlock in reaching decisions due to large number of un-coordinated voices in the assembly or too many committees resulting in over-planning and fragmentation of legislative work. One way to regulate these forces  is to strike a balance and equation between four functions of legislation: 1) the method for electing representatives to parliament; 2) the rules drawn up for legislation; 3) the degree of diverse public representation in parliament; and, 4) the basis of representation through well defined constituencies and electoral quotas.

The present composition of federal parliament in Pakistan is 342 seats in the National Assembly (lower house) and 104 seats in the Senate (upper house). The 342 seats in the National Assembly are made up of 272 general seats for single-member geographical constituencies directly elected on first past the post basis; 60 reserved seats for women and 10 reserved seats for non-Muslims. Against this allocation, women and minority representatives are elected through an indirect proportional representation system where each province is a single constituency for women and the whole country is a single constituency for non-Muslims. In their election, due weightage is given to political parties represented on the general seats. Women seats are allocated proportionally to political parties, which secure more than 5% vote in the national election.

In the Senate 104 seats are filled by an electoral college of members of the national and provincial assemblies . Each of the four provinces, Balochistan, Sindh, Punjab and Khyber PK are allocated 23 members, comprising 14 general seats, four seats for women, four seats for technical experts including religious experts and one seat for non-Muslims. The Federally Administered Tribal Area is allocated 8 seats. Islamabad federal capital is allocated four seats of which two are general seats, one for women and one for technical experts.

Provincial Assemblies are directly elected through adult franchise at the time of general elections for the federal parliament. The Punjab Assembly has 371 seats, Sindh Assembly has 164 seats, Khyber PK Assemby has 124 seats and Balochistan Assembly has 51seats. The number of seats in each provincial assembly depends on the population spread in that province. Women representation in the provincial assemblies is under 20% and religious minorities are under 5%.

There are no reserved seats in the national parliament in either house for khawajasaras, the equivalent of LGBTQ community in Pakistan, or for handicapped persons both of whom are classified as vulnerable groups, although political parties are encouraged by the Election Commission to nominate them from their political platform. There are also no seats reserved for retired military officers or defence personnel in parliament despite the fact that the military has always played a major role in the politics of Pakistan even under civilian democratic rules. There are also no reserved seats in the parliament for Azad Jammu & Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan regions.

At the time of the 2017 census, Pakistan’s population was 190.32 million. Taking into account displaced persons during the military operation against terrorists, un-counted women in rural areas and the passage of time since the last census, the population figure could be well near 200 million at the end of 2019. Considering this population, the composition of elected representatives in the National Assembly is considerably very low. In Cuba, which is a country of 12 million people, the size of its national assembly is 605. The Chinese National Congress has 2287 delegates who meet every 5 years to shape policy and decide political positions. In Italy where the population is 61 million there are 630 members in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house) and 315 members in the Senate (upper house) all of whom are elected through adult franchise. In Britain, which is the mother of all democracies in the Commonwealth, for a population of 65 million, there are 650 members in the lower house (House of Representatives) who are directly elected and 793 members in the upper house (House of Lords) who are appointed. Pakistan’s population is three times more than Italy’s and Britain’s population. Ideally, its National Assembly should consist of 1026 members and the Senate should have at least 520 members.

There is a good justification why Pakistan parliament should be enlarged by at least three times from its present composition. Firstly, the parliament of Pakistan is considerably under represented given the large scale of the country’s administrative division comprising Districts (129), Urban Councils (2055), Rural Councils (8145), Local Authorities (9398) and Military Cantonments (56). Secondly, while the executive and the judiciary branches are very well represented in the government, as well as adequately staffed, the parliament is not as much resourced either in the National Assembly or in the Senate. Thirdly, the representatives who get elected to the parliament do not truly represent the diversity of the population, which has its roots in sections of the society other than the wealthy or land-owning people of Pakistan. Although there are quotas fixed for women, technical experts and minorities for representation in parliament, nearly 30 diverse communities or professions do not find their interests directly represented in parliament. Finally, a large parliament would be able to deliver quality performance by enabling its members to develop expertise in different areas of legislation, reduce institutional corruption, spend more time in the constituencies, strengthen committee work and block any one or few political parties or interest groups from shirking responsibility or dominating  the legislative function for their own interests as against the people’s, as has been often the case.

One of the reasons why not much thought has been given to increasing the size of the national parliament in Pakistan is the economic cost of the legislative efficiency where the efficiency of parliament is directly related to its size. While the cost of electing, maintaining and managing a sizeable legislature compared to its legislative output will always work out to be high, a larger legislative could in return result in satisfying the smaller federating units of their higher and more visible representation in parliament; a more efficient and action-oriented committee structure; and a productive division of labour in delivering legislative and oversight functions.

In a large legislature, the government spending would naturally be met through taxes raised in each constituency, thereby reducing the overall revenue collection in the national exchequer. But this can be offset by checking wastage and corruption through a better oversight function and by reducing the salary and perks of the members. For example, the honorarium of an MNA in an enlarged parliament should not exceed the maximum salary of a Grade 19 officer in the federal government. A similar reduced salary scale should apply to Senators. A political ethic should be promoted that they are the leaders of the country who are there to serve, and not to profit or seek privileges and perks. There is also no need to start constructing huge buildings to accommodate the additional members of the enlarged parliament under one roof. The existing infrastructure of the National Assembly and the Senate in Islamabad is sufficient to accommodate a large number of representatives on benches arranged in the Westminster style seating instead of the current First Class airport lounge type seats, which are ideal to relax but totally unfit for public service. A robust committee structure will also mean that all MNAs or Senators will not be required to meet frequently and when they do, a full house session can be convened at the Islamabad Convention Centre where they can make use of all the audio-video and conference facilities available to them at parliament.

A large legislature would also increase the size of the wish list for development projects each constituency would expect its representative to deliver. This expectation is but natural and also happens in the present parliament where people expect the ruling party to deliver on its electoral promises. The case for finding project finance can be turned around by making the larger legislature enact laws and oversee policies, which do not benefit only a privileged section of the population but generate income and growth using the untapped potential of human and natural resources and their clever management and allocation in each of the constituencies.

A parliament comprising over 1000 members can never be a rubber stamp parliament, nor it is possible to do horse trading with its members if they have been elected through adult franchise in a multi-party political system. The strongest argument in favour of having a larger parliament in Pakistan is the political and social conditions in the country, which have dramatically changed from the time when the 1973 constitution was adopted to run a truncated country emerging from the dark shadow of the 1972 breakup of East and West Pakistan. The phenomenal increase in population in which vote-eligible young persons form the majority, the emerging regional voices that need to be heard and given weight and the necessity of looking after the needs of a diverse and frustrated pluralistic society demand that the composition of the National Assembly and the Senate should be increased to at least three times it present membership through a constitutional amendment in the 1973 Constitution. In fact, the National Assembly and Senate seats in Pakistan are fit to serve a country of 42 million, not 200 million population.

Of course the argument of increasing the size of the parliament will be meaningless if more of the same representatives are added to these hallowed chambers for the sake of representation, legislation, ratification of signed international treaties, their enactment into local laws, budgetary allocations and oversight of high-level public appointments & functioning of government ministries and departments. A fundamental reform of the way party workers are nominated and given tickets by political parties also needs to be written into law. We have seen that the affirmative action for women representation has brought many women to high political and decision-making levels but not necessarily improved the quality of parliamentary performance except satisfying feminist groups about gender statistics. We have also seen how money politics has made the entry of good political material into parliament impossible, resulting in same faces and families taking turns at every election under the same or different party flags. In fact the term ‘electable’ used for such persons in the 2018 general election of Pakistan forced a popular reform party to change its electoral strategy and give them preference over its own political workers for grant of electoral tickets.

This reform can be implemented by a constitutional amendment expanding the seats in the National Assembly from 342 to 1026 to be contested generally against single constituencies, and in the Senate from 104 to 520 seats, representing 100 seats for each of the four provinces, 50 seats for AJK representation, 50 seats for Gilgit-Baltistan representation and 20 seats for Islamabad federal capital. The representation of AJK and GB may require further amendment of the Constitution in Article 257, which needs to be reviewed. Some current practices also need to be replaced by other good practice such as abolishing quotas for women, technical experts and non-Muslims for representation in parliament and replacing these by making it mandatory for political parties to nominate at least 33% women; 10% non-Muslims; 10% ex-military officers, 3% handicapped and 2% khwajasaras from their party platform for the general seats. Where political parties lack such diverse membership, they should be assisted by the Election Commission to start a broad based party recruitment drive.

With a larger pool of Senate seats it should be possible to allocate all the seats to a wider section of the population representing various professions and diverse interest groups comprising political workers, fishermen, miners, ex-MNAs & MPAs, farmers & farm workers, trade union members, retired judges, barristers & bar members, bankers, financial experts, academics, media persons, doctors, nurses, social workers, businessmen, vendors & traders, ulema, youth representatives, retired military officers, senior citizens over 70 years of age, transporters, builders, engineers, general contractors, hoteliers, IT professionals, retired bureaucrats, ex-diplomats, scientists, artists, poets & writers and housewives. Political parties must be obliged to nominate at least 3 persons from each of the above professions/group for the Senate elections to make up the total of 100 seats allocated to each province.

The Election Commission should also follow this up by changing some of the electoral rules for political parties. For example, multiple-constituency candidacies for general election should be made illegal as it usurps the right of other deserving political workers to become candidates because an influential person in the political party gets nominated against multiple constituencies. A political party, not meeting the electoral requirements should be heavily fined, including the possibility of it’s de-registration for consistent violation of electoral rules.

These changes will make the country’s legislature more effective in representing the diversity of the people through their chosen political parties and enable this important state institution to exercise an efficient and qualitative legislative and oversight function freely within the existing constitution and political system. However, to do so the parliament will also need to manage its large size effectively, and given the necessary political space and provided the required technical, IT and administrative support to enhance its capacity.

25 December 2019

*The writer is an ex-diplomat, an election expert and a political analyst for South Asia region.