Monday, January 7, 2008

PPP now wants judiciary restoration

(Courtesy The News)
The jolted leadership of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is now talking of the restoration of pre-November 3 judiciary in accordance with the will and statement of its martyred leader Benazir Bhutto, which she made on the day of lifting of emergency, but in her own way.

The PPP will have no problem with the restoration of pre-November 3 judiciary which was sacked after the imposition of emergency by the then General Pervez Musharraf if it is done by the parliamentary committees comprising both government and opposition members in the new parliament.

A senior PPP leader when asked about the stance of her party said the party wants complete independence of the judiciary.This point has become the only issue on which the Charter of Demands between the PPP and the APDM was stuck and abandoned.

The text of the Charter, obtained by ‘The News’, shows the APDM wanted this language: “All Supreme Court and High Court judges who were removed on 3rd November 2007 should be restored.”

The ARD position was: “The courage and principled position taken by the judges of the superior judiciary who did not take oath under the PCO is recognised. The declaration of emergency dated 3rd November, 2007 issued by the chief of army staff be withdrawn. The Provisional Constitution Order be revoked and independence of the judiciary restored.”

When the PPP leader was asked about this and her party’s planning regarding this, she said that this issue might be discussed in today’s (Wednesday) Central Executive Committee meeting in Naudero. She, however, said that her party would need some time regarding this issue as still they are in mourning.

She disclosed that her party has decided in life time of Benazir Bhutto that even the new appointments in the superior judiciary would be made by the parliamentary committee comprising the parliamentarians from both the government and opposition and there should be no role of any dictator or any one man.

She said that her party wants that this parliamentary committee should even consider the restoration of judges sacked for not taking oath under the first PCO of the then General, Pervez Musharraf, in 2000.

On the other hand Makhdoom Javed Hashmi, vice-president of Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) told The News Tuesday that restoration of deposed judges would be on top of his party’s campaign in the last six days of electioneering. He said that he hoped that once in the new parliament PPP would definitely support the restoration of sacked judges.

Manufacturing 'Truths'

By Hajrah Mumtaz
(Courtesy DAWN)

"If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it. The lie can be maintained only for such time as the State can shield the people from the political, economic and/or military consequences of the lie. It thus becomes vitally important for the State to use all of its powers to repress dissent, for the truth is the mortal enemy of the lie, and thus by extension, the truth is the greatest enemy of the State." — Dr Paul Joseph Goebbels, Minister for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda under Adolf Hitler's Nationalist Socialist regime.

The words hold relevance for Pakistan today. After a turbulent year that in itself augured ill for the country's future, came the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Just over a week later, the government is engaged in a bitter blame game in the attempt to deflect responsibility everywhere but upon its own minions and shadowy agencies. As the dust slowly settles, some civilian politicians have fallen towards the relative front and this has resulted in a citizenry divided: where some people are referring with disgust to the politicians' past reputations and practices, others are reacting sympathetically.

By way of background noise, references made by politicians both in the King's Party and out of it are gnawing away at the idea of the federation and are hardening provincial divides. At the same time, the citizenry is angrily debating whether democracy is at all relevant to Pakistan's needs since earlier democratic governments fell far short of standards.

In these bleak times, people are taking sides on the basis of what they know to be true. Depending on their sympathies, for example, some of us 'know' that X, Y or Z was corrupt or inefficient, while others 'know' that A, B and C acted out of the best intentions. We 'know' this because we read it in the newspapers, saw it on television, heard it from inside sources and wagged our heads in agreement during drawing room conversations.

Goebbels' words indicate that what we 'know' may not necessarily be the 'truth' — if, indeed, any such animal exists — and may in fact be the result of a vast flood of propaganda and lies that have been insisted upon for so long that they have become the truth.

As Herman and Chomsky pointed out in Manufacturing Consent, state authorities or governments employ indoctrination techniques and propaganda to bolster support for their policies. Significantly, the crux of the book is how the media, on purpose or unwittingly, become the tool through which the lies and half-truths are disseminated.

The military has been in power in Pakistan for most of the country's 60-year history and shows no indication of ever wanting to give it up. The assertions that certain extra-constitutional steps were "in the best interests of the country" must be viewed in this light. At the same time, the reputations of a number of politicians and parties must also be revisited with this knowledge.
Most of us 'know' that our democratic governments were tainted by institutionalised corruption on a massive scale, because this is what we have been repeatedly told for the past eight years in particular, and over decades in general. (By the same token, I wonder, do we 'know' that non-democratic governments were squeaky clean? Or is that just not talked about?)

It is worth examining who was doing the telling, and who was in power long enough to repeat the same shady 'truths' over and over again. Could this government be in the business of manufacturing such 'truths'? It is entirely possible that our 'knowledge' is the result of a massive propaganda machine that has consistently run defamation and character assassination campaigns against civilian political leaders. Over the years, little proof has been offered by way of explanation while damning such politicians.

True, ample evidence of maladministration and corruption has been presented by the press. Little of this evidence, however, has been the result of independent investigative journalism. Most of the news reports upon the actions or statements of others. For example, when the press reports the dismissal of a government under charges of corruption or maladministration, the allegation is being levelled by the individual or institution doing the dismissing, not the press itself. Furthermore, such allegations are never proved or disproved through a credible trial. And what's more, even if the press raised suspicions of misrule through solid investigative journalism, it would still be up to the courts to pronounce upon the veracity of the allegations.
Ironically, it was also Goebbels who wrote: "Think of the press as a great keyboard on which the government can play."

The point is not whether our politicians are blameless, but whether we have been offered any credible proof that they are not. Sadly, the idea of being innocent until proved guilty is not in evidence in Pakistan and any hope for it was stamped out with the dismissal of independent-minded judges.

The Big Lie theory, as such methods of indoctrination have been referred to, is a propaganda technique first defined by Hitler in Mien Kampf as a lie so "colossal" that no one would be able to believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously." While Hitler used this theory with reference to his view of Judaism, it is amply in evidence in Pakistan today. We have, after all, a government audacious enough to first present a theory as ludicrous as a murderous sun-roof handle, and then admit that the statement was made without taking all evidence into account. Fortuitously, in this case there was hard evidence to disprove the government's claim otherwise it may easily have gone down in the annals of history.

Furthermore, it is worth pondering the etymology of the word 'media'. It is the plural for 'medium', which since the early 17th century has been used in the context of an 'intermediate agency' and carries the additional meaning of 'medium of communication.' In this broader sense, the media include not only the formal agencies that disseminate information and ideas — newspapers, television etc — but also the informal systems through which, generally speaking, each of us knows what he knows. These informal systems are the verbal avenues for the exchange of ideas, such as debate, discussion and even rumour or gossip, since these too are amongst the streams of information that together constitute the well of knowledge available to any individual.

Such informal streams of the media can be and are extensively used by Pakistan's well-connected, entrenched and institutionalised propaganda machine. The power of the media in terms of shaping the perspectives and perceptions of individuals is not only immense but in terms of the informal media, also truly frightening because of its nebulous nature.
The thinking person must ask himself, "How do I know what I know, and how do I know whether it is true?"

Post-script: "To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just so long as it is needed . . ." — George Orwell, 1984.

A Shadowy Role

(Courtesy The News, Jan 5, 2008)

The role of Pakistan's extensive network of intelligence agencies has come under scrutiny once more in the aftermath of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto. Whereas President Pervez Musharraf has categorically denied any possibility of an agency hand in the killing, fingers continue to be pointed in their direction. One of the reasons for such suspicions, which have also been raised repeatedly in the past in relation to various events, is the fact that so little is known about these organizations and because they have often been used to manipulate election results and do successive governments' dirty work. Though they consume enormous budgets, paid for by taxpayers, the public knows next to nothing about how they operate or, indeed, what their assigned role is. This is all the more true since, over the decades since Pakistan was founded, the number of agencies operating in the country has grown. It is unclear who, if any authority, controls these organizations -- and in some cases they have been reported to be working at cross purposes, depending on the political interests with which they are affiliated. Reports of the existence of various factions within some of the larger agencies make the situation even murkier.

Events that have unfolded over the past few decades at various points in Pakistan's turbulent history indicate that in many cases the parliament or civilian government in place had little knowledge about the activities of agencies or even their broad ambit of responsibilities. While it is true that, particularly in a situation such as Pakistan's, where a network of terrorist outfits operates, an intelligence set-up is required, there can be no justification for the political role it is frequently alleged to be playing. The lack of information about this role adds to the apprehensions that intelligence agencies have come to comprise a kind of a state within a state, and operate as a power in themselves, with little control by government. That both the interior and defence ministries have in the past told courts that the intelligence agencies do not fall under them is a dangerous indication of the fact that these shadowy organizations function outside the organized structure of government.

This is an alarming situation. These organizations have been repeatedly accused of deliberately creating instability and disorder to meet set political purposes. This, it has been reported, has been achieved at times through the clever dissemination of the media, exploiting the fact that for reporters access to information remains limited, making them vulnerable to 'fed' items of news. Even today, there have been allegations that the agencies have been at work in creating confusion about the murder of Benazir Bhutto. Recently, it was in the case involving the 400 or so 'disappeared' people in the country that the intelligence agencies had gained most notoriety. The Supreme Court had in the recent past held the agencies responsible for whisking away hundreds of citizens and keeping them in secret jails. The controversy had continued through 2007, with the court threatening to order agency chiefs to appear before it. With the dissolution of the previous Supreme Court benches, the case today seems to have been shelved.

But given the controversy that exists over the country's secret agencies, there is a need to clarify their functions and explain who is accountable for their actions. The best and more transparent way would be to make them accountable and subservient to parliament, the norm in fully functional democracies the world over -- that is the only way to keep a proper check on them, just like in the case of any government department. Until this happens, these organizations will continue to generate controversy and fuel conspiracy theories, and this can in no way serve Pakistan's urgent need for greater accountability, greater transparency and greater credibility at all levels within the state.

Student Action Committee protest on Tuesday

The Student Action Committee (Lahore) has called for a protest on the 8th of January 2008 at 2 pm at Minar e Pakistan. In collaboration with civil society groups, lawyers and activists. This protest is to be registered against the removal of the pre Nov 3rd judiciary that stood for a just rule of law and against the inefficiency displayed by the establishment which has led to the assassination of thousands of citizens, including a powerful leader of opposition.
The students demand that the pre Nov 3rd judiciary be restored without which elections cannot be free and fair. However, we do acknowledge that there are compelling reasons for to participate in the upcoming elections for many, and do not hold it against them, so long as they are committed to the restoration of the only judiciary that has exercised independance to this degree.
Aitzaz Ahsen's baseless dentention keeps getting prolonged while the stringent treatment meted out to him suggests that our current regime shuns standing for principles and only favours partisan attitudes.
While Pakistan is on the brink of being considered a 'failed state', the SAC (lahore) urges the nation to join forces for the onlt path that can lead us out of this mess. So join us on the 8th and stand loud and strong at Minar e Pakistan at 2 pm.
While the country's being exploited by opportunistic leaders and political parties, the country has a chance to literally stand up and decide the future of Pakistan on the basis of right and wrong, on previous false promises, failed governments and demolished institutions. So please take time out for your country, stand united and show everyone that we care, that we will not rest until Pakistan steps on the only path that can ensure its survival.

In solidarity for principles,

Student Action Committee

CCP rally outside Aitzaz's house - eyewitness account

Xani Amin
The CCP (Concerned Citizens of Pakistan) members, lawyers and students gathered outside Atizaz Ahsan’s house at 3pm to register yet another protest against the present state of affairs in the country. There were about a hundred protesters holding play cards and stickers which demanded the restoration of Judiciary. Pamphlets containing the demands of CCP were distributed among the protesters. The flyer, Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry's lament was also distributed to large number of passing vehicles. The protesters began their march towards Mall Road chanting slogans in favour of judiciary and disposed judges. At this point the Police tried to stop the rally from going towards Mall Road, but the enthusiastic crowd made it clear that they would not be intimidated and will carried on their march. The protesters gathered at the Mall Road chowk, raised some more anti government slogans, sang the National Anthem and then made their way back to Atizaz Ahsan’s house. There it was decided that CCP will continue with its protests twice a week, one on Thursday (with the lawyers’ community) and another on Sunday. The rally ended with this resolution and crowd dispersed peacefully. The protest was also covered by media.

The Name and Shame campaign

In light of the upcoming elections, we are planning a Name and Shame campaign. As we are all aware, for any system to function, an efficient check and balance must be in place. In that light, for a governmental system to function, a similar check and balance must exist, which can only come from an Independant judiciary, a free media, and a watchdog civil society. We all are also aware that if this judiciary, which for the first time dared question the executive, is not restored, then no judge for the coming 60 yrs will dare do the same. Hence, our commitment is to the restoration of the judiciary as it was pre Nov 3rd.

For that end, and for becoming the effective watchdog that we aim to become, the first step begins with these elections. People must know who they are voting for, and what these people stand for. The government must know that we will not stand for any rigging in the elections and will do our utmost to prevent and expose any rigging. And most importantly, all the politicians must know that times have changed, and now they will be held accountable.

The Name and Shame Campaign

We research into the positives and negatives of major political figures in Pakistan's major political parties. This would include:
i. Their work in the halqa/constituency (goods and bads that happened during their last term in power)
ii. Their positions on various legislation in the National Assembly/Senate
iii. Allegations: Proven/Unproven against themAll of the above need to be referenced from credible sources.

Hence, the main players of all the political parties (PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, MQM, MMA) must be covered. So pick any of your choice and inform us on . The deadline for submission of the said information is Thursday Next week by midnight. The subsequent weekend will be employed to circulate the findings as widely as possible. Any suggestions for the furthering of our aims are welcome.

In solidarity,

Student Action Committee