Sunday, May 18, 2008

Is the judges issue impeding progress on the economy?

It is being said by some people that the present economic crisis is a result of the uncertainty created by the lawyers movement. Some other people are saying that the judges issue is diverting attention from more pressing national issues. Such arguments are being given for ignoreing the judges issue so that the economy can be put back on track. Below, I will try to address these arguments.
A closer scrutiny of the economy shows that the present economic crisis has nothing to do with the lawyers movement that started on March 9.
Load shedding due to power shortage started in 2006 and any well informed person knew that it was only going to get worse since the Musharraf government had made no serious attempt to address the problem. For example, we can check this news report from 2006:
(Pakistan needs to tackle energy crisis)
or this one from Jan 9, 2007:
(Pakistan's Energy Crisis to Worsen in Next Two Years)
Similarly, the pressure on the foreign reserves and the rupee was also very much expected due to the record trade deficit. This again, had nothing to do with the lawyers struggle, as we can see from the following report dated Jan 2007:
(Pakistan Trade Deficit Widens as Imports Rise)
and the following from March 9, 2007 (the day Musharraf sacked the CJ):
(Trade gap widens to record $8.89bn)
Likewise, many analysts were saying well before March 9, 2007 that the economic growth momentum was not sustainable. For example, check the following piece dated May 1, 2006 from daily times (now more appropriately called chamcha times for overtly supporting Musharraf's Nov 3 martial law and running an editorial campaign against the judges who have refused to accept the Nov 3 PCO):
(Is GDP growth sustainable?)
In light of the above, it should be clear that our present economic crisis is a result of gross mismanagement by the Musharraf govt, and it could be clearly seen coming well before March 9, even when Musharraf was comfortably entrenched in power. The lawyers movement and the related political uncertainty is definitely not an important contributing factor in this crisis.
Is the judges issue delaying a resolution to the economic crisis? Should the civil society give up its demand for the restoration of the judiciary? Again, I believe the answer is clearly in the negative for the following reasons:
1. The PPP can simply restore the deposed judges while removing those who have taken oath under the Nov 3 PCO and then we would not have this political uncertainty. The blame for any political uncertainty therefore lies on the shoulders of the Musharraf-Zardari-Rehman trio and their foreign backers.
2. The judges issue does not stop the government from working on the other issues.
3. A solid institutional basis is needed to put the country on a sustainable path of progress. We keep on having these political crises because we do not have sound institutions. Ignoring the judges issue in the name of the economy will therefore only bring temporary relief if at all. But if the judiciary does get restored, then we might have a better institution which should help the country in the long-run.
4. An independent and credible judiciary is also needed to keep the excesses of the government under check. We all know how large scale corruption and nepotism seriously damages the economy. In the steel mills case alone, the government was giving away billions of rupees to the buyer by selling this national asset well below its value. The supreme court headed by honourable Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry prevented this big loss to the nation by stopping the loot sail. It would therefore be totally ridiculous to argue that the civil society's emphasis on the restoration of the judiciary is a hurdle in improving our economy. Those who care about eliminating corruption so that our resources can be directed towards the development of Pakistan and the well-being of the people must come out strongly on the side of the legitimate judiciary. They should not side with those who are only trying to protect their power and loot through the NRO.
5. Our governments are usually unresponsive to the needs and demands of the people. This is because they face very limited pressure from the electorate and the civil society. Zardari and co are also thinking that they can get away without restoring the judges and the people will not be able to do anything about it.
If the civil society backs down on this issue for any reason, it will only make people like Musharraf and Zardari feel bolder. On the other hand, if the civil society wins this battle, it might allow the people of Pakistan to assert themselves more strongly on other issues too. Whether it's food security, inflation, law and order, education, healthcare, or any other such issue, our leaders will feel that they can not totally ignore the wishes of the people and get away with it. For this reason, even if one is not sure whether the judges issue ought to be the no 1 priority, one should put one's full weight behind it. Such a national consensus on an issue provides a rare opportunity for establishing the power of the people which might not come again in our entire life time. We must not lose such a golden opportunity by getting into petty squabbles over whether issue x is more urgent than issue y.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The judges issue is important as it has become the test for the coalition government to check the power that has been transferred to the parliament. How much of the glitter is gold and how much is gold polish. It is important for the parliament to establish its writ through this issue. But yes the political leadership should have the wisdom not to get bogged down . They must make progress on the economic side which is more important.