Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Reconstructing Federalism

Dr. Rasul Bakhs Rais

Ethnic pluralism of the Indus valley region, that now forms the geographical core of Pakistan, historically was never separatist in orientation but rather interactive and integrationist for thousands of years under local kingdoms and great empires

Federalism, the constitutional distribution of power between the centre and the provinces, has suffered heavier blows during the last eight years under General (retd) Pervez Musharraf than any other time in our history. The story of other norms and institutions is no less tragic, but how we manage issues of federalism is of far greater importance to the future of the country.

The significance of handling the federal question proactively and according to popular aspiration lies in two political facts. The first fact is our national character as a multi-ethnic society. But this multi-ethnic character is like a marble shape, more intricate, inter-woven and complex than is commonly understood or recognised. This development that has taken place through migration, old and new, does not diminish the ethnic character of the provinces, their own ethnic mix notwithstanding. As has become clearer through painful experiences, the issue of provincial rights is one we can ignore only at the cost of damaging the federation.

The second political fact is that a multi-ethnic state like ours requires a democratic, federal framework of governance. Democracy would give peoples and their representatives a sense of ownership in the power structure and a stake in the political system, while federalism would give them political, economic and cultural autonomy. The theoretical foundations of a federal system lie in the concept of dual sovereignty, as it creates two sets of political authority: an effective and efficient national government, and state or provincial governments with separate and well-defined areas of jurisdiction. Empirically, federalism has proved the best arrangement for ethnically diverse societies. Its recognition of social and political pluralism integrates different communities together in a single nationhood.

Unfortunately, successive generations of politicians and policymakers in Pakistan have failed to demonstrate true understanding of ethnic pluralism and how to accommodate it in the political system. Maybe they understood the issue of ethnic diversity but fudged it by representing genuine ethnic and regional demands as opposed to the interests of the federation. This falsification had another sinister purpose: to legitimise themselves as true patriots while labelling ethnic leaders and groups as traitors.

Our national leaders, both civilian and military, never came to grips with the ethnic and regional realities of the country, which were presented as more of a problem than an opportunity to build inclusive, participatory nationalism. The use of religion to create national solidarity that would cut through ethnic identities was too idealistic to be a pragmatic solution to the real political problem.

The ethnic identities of regional social groups are rooted deep in history, culture, language and folklore. The illusory assumption that these identities could be wished away or instantly substituted with another politically engineered identity was proved absolutely false. And if we continue to ignore the ethnic factor in our national politics, it will only add further pressures and demands on the central political system.

The problem is that most of our leaders have been uncomfortable in recognising ethnic identity as a legitimate human feeling. It is also lost on them that ethnic difference is and can be a legitimate basis on which regional groups can claim their share in national resources, power and decision-making.

Ethnicity in Pakistan or in other countries is not inherently antagonistic to building a nation-state. Those who make the opposite argument are fixated on the European notion of culture-based nations, which were formed after many years of immeasurable bloodshed for powerful groups, often minorities, to impose their cultural hegemony on less fortunate, weaker groups.

Most post-colonial states are ethnically diverse, and by necessity have to go through a painful process of adjustment, mutual accommodation and co-existence by mutual acknowledgement, respect and inclusive politics. Pakistan, compared to many other countries, has an ethnic complex more conducive to nation building than in many other places. It has many layers of integrative forces that we could have used, and still can intelligently use, in weaving our composite nationhood.

Ethnic pluralism of the Indus valley region, that now forms the geographical core of Pakistan, historically was never separatist in orientation but rather interactive and integrationist for thousands of years under local kingdoms and great empires. There cannot be better evidence for this than in the historical pattern of migration and voluntary relocation of populations, regional commerce and trade. This historical pattern, which has continued over the past sixty years, has further transformed the ethnic landscape of Pakistan into a marble shape that presents a diffused, patchy and inter-woven image of ethnic colours and cultures.

This has happened, though, without any assistance from the country's politics, which was divisive rather than integrative in its refusal to accept regional autonomy and ethnic rights as one of the guiding principles of Pakistan's secular nationhood.

Let me clarify the idea of secular nationhood: shared powers, responsibility and political significance among all regions and ethnic groups.

Never in any situation is social diversity an obstruction to evolution into cohesive nationhood. It requires a different kind of politics, which must be dictated by the logic of ethnic diversity. It is a kindly national solidarity that needs to be built from below upward by listening to concerns and voices from the constituent regions; not by acknowledging them as rightful players but giving them a say and a stake in national power and decision-making. The trust deficit that we have between the centre and the provinces is in proportion to defective national politics, which has not been appropriate for or responsive to the ethnic mosaic that is Pakistan.

The successive authoritarian rules that we have endured for decades have alienated some ethnic groups, fuelling anger and frustration among them. Military rule by nature has a centralising tendency, and in our case, in popular regional perceptions, it has become associated with the dominance of the majority ethnic group. The one-man political show that we have watched helplessly for the last eight years has greatly damaged our federal structure.

It took us a quarter century to reach national consensus on the 1973 Constitution, somewhat settling the federal issue as the regional political parties accepted distribution of powers. We have not lived up to that promise. We don't need to repeat how individual rulers have disfigured the document to protect their own power and place in politics. Pakistan must return to a democratic, federal framework to address the question of ethnic diversity sooner rather than later. We are already late, weakened and politically disoriented on this fundamental issue of national importance.

The author is a professor of Political Science at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. He can be reached at

SAC-Lahore Protest on the 2nd

Late Benazir cleared of corruption charges

RAWALPINDI: Slain former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been cleared of all corruption cases after an accountability court today deleted her name from the final references.

Two National Accountibility Courts today heard references against Benazir Bhutto's husband -- Asif Ali Zardari -- in the Ursus tractors, ARY, SGS Cotecna, Polo Ground and BMW corruption references.

Judge Khalid Mehmood deleted Benazir Bhutto's name from the Ursus reference clearing her of all charges.

(Courtesy GEO)

Another award for Pakistani legal community

Annual Award for Distinction in International Law and Affairs presented to the Lawyers and Judges of Pakistan, as represented by Aitzaz Ahsan, in asbentia

Embattled judges and vulnerable children are among the issues to be taken up this week as more than 5,000 lawyers gather at the Marriott Marquis in Times Square for the annual meeting of the New York State Bar Association.

The International Law and Practice Section tomorrow (Wed. Jan. 29th 2008) gives its annual award for distinction in international law and affairs in absentia to Aitzaz Ahsan, on behalf of the lawyers and judges of Pakistan. Much of that country’s legal and judicial community has been in conflict with Pakistan’s leadership since President Perves Musharraf suspended the constitution and replaced seven of the 11 members of the Supreme Court.

Mr. Ahsan, president of the Pakistan Supreme Court Bar Association, has been under frequent arrest for his efforts to restore Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry as chief justice.

Earlier this month, the New York City Bar Association granted honorary membership to Justice Chaudhry. In November, the city and state bars, as well as the New York County Lawyers’ Association, organized a rally attended by about 700 people at Manhattan Supreme Court in support of Pakistan’s lawyers and judges.

New York Law Journal :
New York State Bar Association (NYSBA):

Demo in front of Justice (R) Tariq Mehmood's house

As you all know that the constitutional period of 90 days to keep a person under arrest is about to be over, but the dictatorial regime has no intentions of releasing the detained lawyers and judges. Their only crime was to stand by justice and rule of law.

Therefore we are planning to gather in front of Justice (R) Tariq Mehmood's house in Islamabad to raise our voice against the injustice. Please note the date and venue:

Date: Friday, 1st February, 2008
Time: 4:00 pm
Venue: House 408, Street No. 1, Sector I-8/4, Islamabad

Everyone who is concerned about the situation of Pakistan, is invited to join in. Lawyers, members of civil society will also join us. You can bring flowers and candles with you. For details, you can contact Ali Awan: 0321 8540836

News report- Man dies trying to get food for family

A news report from the daily Express about a man dying trying to obtain food for his family. Just one unnoticed example of the tribulations our countrymen are undergoing as a result of Musharraf's much-touted 'economic growth'.

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Retired Pakistani General leads Anti-Musharraf movement


A retired Pakistani General who opposes President Pervez Musharraf said he would "not be surprised" if Musharraf had engineered terror attacks to manipulate his image in the West.Former Lieutenant General Faiz Ali Chishti heads the influential Pakistan Ex-Servicemen Society, which last week issued a blunt open letter signed by more than 100 senior officers calling on Musharraf to quit.

The statement fuelled Western speculation that Musharraf may be losing support in the military following his resignation as army chief in November, a potential blow with parliamentary elections only three weeks away.

"Musharraf is an intellectually dishonest person. He is a clever ruler, who makes the US and the West believe that they can only effectively deal with Al-Qaeda as long as he is in power," Chishti told AFP in an interview."But what is Al-Qaeda and who are Taliban? I will not be surprised if this clever ruler is behind all suicide attacks," he said.

Pakistan has been buffetted by more than 50 suicide attacks in the past year, culminating in the assassination of opposition leader Benazir Bhutto on December 27, which led to planned January 8 general elections being delayed.

The government blames Bhutto's killing on an allegedly Al-Qaeda-linked tribal warlord, Baitullah Mehsud, but many of Bhutto's supporters have accused the government or parts of the military of involvement.

Musharraf, who seized power in a coup in 1999, has rejected those claims, and last week he angrily brushed aside the calls for his resignation by Chishti and the other generals."They are insignificant personalities," Musharraf told the Financial Times in an interview at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Most of them are ones who served under me and I kicked them out... They are insignificant. I am not even bothered by them."

In another interview with the BBC he said that the retired officers had no clout with today's 500,000-strong, nuclear-armed military.

But Chishti -- a former federal minister and the one-time corps commander for Rawalpindi, a key post in the Pakistani army -- urged current and former servicemen to push for change."My request as head of the society, is that retired General Pervez Musharraf should also step down as President," Chishti said."We request all ex-servicemen and even those, who are in uniform to vote for persons, who are fit to do something for this country and people."

Chishti himself is no stranger to military rulers, having supervised the imposition of martial law in July 1977 in Pakistan. He went on to become a close associate of late dictator General Zia-ul-Haq.But he said that the situation now was different, partly because of Musharraf's close ties to Washington.

"Musharraf is in league with the US and the West for the sake of his own survival. The majority of Pakistanis feel he... has been taking illegal, unconstitutional and unlawful actions for his survival," Chishti said.

He rejected Western "propaganda" about Musharraf being able to safeguard Pakistan's nuclear weapons from Islamic extremists, saying it was the army's job."Is he carrying these nuclear weapons in his pocket? The answer is no," he said.

Chishti also accused Musharraf of "taking sides" and campaigning for the former ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Q party ahead of the elections on February 18.

The government meanwhile has rejected the ex-servicemen's claims. Information Minister Nisar Memon told state media that their demands for Musharraf to resign were unconstitutional, adding that he was "dismayed" by their "lack of understanding of national issues."

How to steal an election

From Abuja to Islamabad, autocratic regimes have become adept at manipulating “free and fair elections” to stay in power. Here’s how they do it—and how to stop them.

Control the process

How it’s done: It’s much easier to steal an election when there are fewer checks on executive power and no legal framework for resolving disputes. When the laws are vague, election commissions are often powerless to confront a powerful central leader. “When you have a partial constitution that doesn’t lay out the details of election law properly, that’s a problem,” says Chris Hennemeyer, director of African programs at the election-monitoring group IFES, adding, “It’s a tried-and-true technique to stack the electoral commission with your cronies.”

Real-world example: Kenya’s constitution invests an enormous amount of power in the executive branch. This allowed President Mwai Kibaki to create a vast system of patronage throughout the government based largely on tribal ties. The head of the Electoral Commission of Kenya, Samuel Kivuitu, has recently admitted that he was pressured by the president’s office to announce results before he could verify their authenticity.

How to stop it: An independent judicial branch that is capable of arbitrating electoral disputes without partisan pressure is a must. It also helps if polls are managed by independent election commissions rather than interior ministries.

Manipulate the media

How it’s done: In countries with little or no independent media outlets, opportunities are rife for leaders to use state-controlled media to broadcast propaganda or discredit the opposition. Crackdowns on independent media are also common in the run-up to elections.

Real-world example: In the months leading up to the recent presidential election in Georgia, President Mikheil Saakashvili’s government shut down Imedi TV, an opposition-friendly television station founded by one of the president’s rivals and managed by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation. Footage of Saakashvili’s campaign appearances dominated news programs on state television. The incumbent went on to win handily in an election deemed fair by international observers.

How to stop it: The proliferation of Internet news sources and text messaging can make it harder to control the flow of information, a fact exploited by Ukrainian bloggers during that country’s “Orange Revolution.” However, as bloggers critical of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak learned this year, they are not immune to government crackdowns or jail time. There are low-tech solutions as well. Since World War II, the U.S. government’s Voice of America service has provided relatively unbiased information to citizens without access to free media.

Keep out the observers

How it’s done: In close elections, a popular technique is to identify which polling stations are likely to be swing votes and replace trained election officials with government loyalists at the last minute. If the official staff can be kept quiet for long enough, the deception won’t be discovered by the opposition until it’s too late. Another common technique is to threaten, blackmail, or discredit domestic election observers, or simply deny them access to polling stations, to give government loyalists space to do their work.

Real-world example: During the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections, judges at individual polling stations made seemingly arbitrary decisions about whether to allow outside monitoring. The result? Some stations were monitored and some were not. Monitors were beaten by police in one southern city, and eight were arrested and released elsewhere. Those who were granted access recorded a litany of violations.

How to stop it: Observers from international organizations are harder to remove and less susceptible to threats from local law enforcement personnel. However, it is often impossible to bring in sufficient numbers of foreign staff to monitor every polling place, and even foreign observers often have trouble getting the access they need.

Misreport results

How it’s done: It’s not a slam dunk to cheat on the count at polling stations, since they are often monitored by international observers or civil-society groups. Unfortunately, official results are generally tabulated by officials at centralized locations away from public scrutiny, making deliberate miscounting all too easy. Another popular technique is to tabulate results from “ghost” voting stations, says Pat Merloe, director of electoral programs at the National Democratic Institute. This type of fraud can be risky. The public usually notices when officially reported results vastly differ from polling conducted prior to elections.

Real-world example: Nadia Diuk, senior director for Europe and Eurasia at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), relays a tale from Azerbaijan’s 2000 elections: “The light went out in the room where the counting was to take place, and the flashlights of the observers just caught sight of a bundle of ballots sailing through the air to land on the counting table.”

How to stop it: In one innovative scheme, Kosovar democracy activists monitored polling places during assembly elections last November and used mobile phones to text unofficial results to a central server, creating a tally that could be compared to officially released results. As it turned out, the tally was within half a percent of the election commission’s own numbers.

Foster incompetence and chaos

How it’s done: “Arguably, Africa’s foremost election thieves have been the Nigerians, world famous for their 419 scams and oil-induced corruption,” says Dave Peterson, also at NED. The trick is to create so much chaos that nobody can say for sure who really won.

Real-world example: Nigeria’s 2007 national and state elections take the chaos prize. Ballots arrived late to polling stations, if at all, or were printed with missing or incorrect information. Polling places and procedures were changed at the last minute. With security lax, reports were rampant of militants harassing voters and youth gangs breaking into polling places and making off with ballot boxes. “One couldn’t say the government controlled the process as much as it simply sabotaged it,” Peterson says.

How to stop it: The best way to stop it, says Peterson, is once again to establish and fund a “genuinely independent electoral commission” that is responsible for ensuring that the process flows smoothly.

Resort to the crude stuff

How it’s done: “My old boss once said, ‘Only amateurs steal an election on election day,’” says Hennemeyer. Controlling the process itself is generally far more effective and difficult to prevent than blatantly stealing an election at the polling-station level. But if all else fails, some governments are still not above using such tried-and-true methods as intimidating voters and prospective candidates.

Real-world example: A favorite tactic in Egypt is to deploy riot police in strategic polling locations to keep out voters for the opposition Muslim Brotherhood—while state employees arrive in buses and are ushered in en masse. In 2005, a bloody showdown in the streets of Alexandria between government-backed thugs wielding machetes and Brotherhood supporters seeking to cast their votes became international news, embarrassing the regime.

How to stop it: Thankfully, this type of blatant election-stealing is less common than it used to be in many parts of the world. This is due less to governments’ becoming more honest than to increased vigilance by citizens’ groups and the media. Hennemeyer describes the changes he has seen in Africa: “While there were some horrible elections in Africa [in 2007], there were some pretty good ones too. It’s almost as if there’s a new generation of people who have woken up to the fact the Africans have been robbed of their political rights since independence.”