Policing the people

Could parties in power have survived without police power?

September 18, 2014


The police system set up in 1861 for colonial India was “designed to be a public-frightening organization, not a public-friendly agency… for keeping the natives on a tight leash,” wrote Dr. Shoaib Suddle, “Service to the people was not an objective.”
It’s remained unchanged for over 150 years, now keeping citizens of a supposedly free country on an even tighter leash.
Dr. Shoaib Suddle, amongst his other appointments a decorated former Inspector of Police in Balochistan and Sindh, is a criminologist with a Ph.D. in white-collar crime, who has always sought police reform. He advises and interacts with concerned agencies and institutions around the world including the UN, but has had the least luck with the deeply-entrenched power structure in his own country.
There are many excellent reports on the state of the police system in Pakistan with specific recommendations for reform, equally ignored. But it’s worth starting with Dr. Suddle’s overview that traces its origins and track record, and why politicians cling fiercely to it.
It makes one consider. Would the same two parties which have to date formed governments in turn — as if by prior agreement – have been able to survive without police power? May be the first time round; subsequently unlikely. The stark blow-by-blow lessons in vivid colour across TV screens continues.
Imagine the PAT and PTI marches and sit-ins; what if everything had proceeded without the police ever making an entry? The crowds could have mushroomed and either progressed to their logical conclusion — or fizzled out without anyone getting killed or brutalized.
People know that the police can’t be our friends, and exist only to serve the government of the day, to be feared, never trusted, and largely to be steered clear of.

This completely negates the purpose of a modern police force in a democracy. Yet most citizens apathetically – and mistakenly — accept the police system as an unchangeable given, with few activist efforts for police reform. Most haven’t made the ugly links between an anachronistic police system and democracy.
In pre-British and ancient Indian times, the judiciary and executive were separate; the British consciously unraveled it. The same authority became judge and executioner. As civil unrest grew and the colonials conceded that some police reform was necessary, an 1856 directive sought to deal with the worst of the system’s ills.
It was decided that, “the management of the police of each district be taken out of the hands of the Magistrate.” But British supremacy had to remain uppermost, and it was “committed to European officers.”
The following year, though, the Mutiny of 1857 took place, and the furious British withdrew their decision to separate the police from the executive.
Increasingly, judicial and police powers became concentrated in the same hands through the District Officer – also known as Collector, District Officer, Deputy Commissioner or District Magistrate – who tried most criminal cases. While admitting that the police system left much to be desired, Sir James Stephan (Governor General’s Council, 1870-71,) nevertheless justified the status quo: diminishing the District Officers’ authority over the Natives would compromise British control. The Police Act of 1861 therefore brought no relief to people.
Within six months of independence, the Sindh Assembly passed a Bill for establishing a modern police force for Karachi. But Jinnah passed away soon after, and nothing came of it. Subsequent initiatives were spurned first by the bureaucratic elite, and then by politicians. Dynastic parties and business barons stepped comfortably into ex- colonial shoes.
Mr Vincent Del Buono, UN’s Interregional Advisor for Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, led a UN Mission to Pakistan in early 1995 and made recommendations. “The present crisis comes as no surprise,” said the Mission. “Since 1960, there have been eleven separate committees or commissions established by governments in Pakistan and four international missions requested by the Government of Pakistan which have recommended major reforms of policing in Pakistan.”
In 1996, the Pakistan Government invited Japan’s Director General of the National Police Agency, Mr. Sekine, to visit. The team observed that it was crucial that police reforms focus on building a relationship of trust between the people and the police which should adopt a public service concept. Tall order. First on the list of recommendations to establish mutual trust, was the “creation of institutional structures that ensure political neutrality and democratic control of the police.” Instead, public relationing sans internal change failed.
A researcher noted that rapid and remarkable transformation occurred in police behaviour in Japan after World War II, associated with democratisation.
In 1999, a Think Tank on Police Reforms was created by the National Reconstruction Bureau, including Dr. Suddle. It concurred with past findings, that: “Increasingly the police was rendered to act as agents of the political executive rather than as instruments of a democratic state. The selective application of law against opponents, whether due to political interference or at the behest of persons of influence, became the norm rather than an exception. Political and personal vendettas were waged and won through manipulation of the instruments of state. Whatever safeguards existed against the floodgates of pressure, inducement or threat from criminals or ethnic, sectarian or other powerful elements virtually became dead. The net result of this was that people perceived the police as agents of the powerful, not as members of an organization publicly maintained to enforce rule of law.”
In 2001, for the very first time, an independent Police Complaints Authority was created and the office of District Magistrate abolished – ironically enough, under a military president.
But did it make any difference? Not in the long run, certainly not under elected governments. The draft Police Ordinance 2002 which aims at completely depoliticizing the police, making it a professional body built on merit, more accountable to citizens, more, hopefully, like Scotland Yard, still lies dormant. Mainstream politicians prefer it dead.
Suddenly, intriguingly, a few days ago, an experiment with community policing was floated in Karachi, to ‘build the confidence of residents in the police.’ People are doubtful. It was tried before and failed. Police stations generally avoid bothering vicinity residents anyway. It’s like applying band-aid on what needs major surgery, avoiding addressing defective foundations. Any step can still be overridden by the ultimate authorities – the CM or equivalent of Chaudhury Nisar or Rahman Malik on behalf of PM or President.
The police could still buy plum ‘police stations’; collaborate with ‘bhatta’ takers and other racketeers; get paid off by culprits; extort bribes; intimidate, rape and humiliate; harass travelers on roads; break into homes without a warrant; teargas and shoot non-violent, unarmed people; make unlawful, arbitrary arrests and jail them without production in court; and mete out inhuman treatment causing grievous injuries.
After openly attacking political opponents of rulers, police take the flak. The public condemns the police. So do the politicians who gave the orders to begin with. Scapegoat cops are transferred in token ‘punishment’, and business continues as usual.
Now that ideas are taking root, the next government will have to make police reform first priority. The opposition remains silent on the matter. Presumably, they don’t want change either.

This article was printed in the The Nation – 18 Sept, 2014


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Saving their ‘democracy’

September 10, 2014



Since the late 80s, successive governments have been consistently violating citizens’ human and constitutional rights under the cover of the World Bank and IMF. In 1987, the IMF slapped us on the wrists with a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) put into effect in1990. It was approved neither by an elected government nor a military dictatorship but by an interim government that had no authority to take such a step, yet no subsequent government ever questioned or tried to undo its illegitimacy.
Democracy in Pakistan was stunted because of feudalism and bureaucratic elitism, whether upfront or through pulling the puppet strings of the agricultural economy. Then, despite a reasonable Constitution and elections, any improvement in democratic effort was effectively paralyzed.
Unless the steps and impacts of structural adjustment are examined under democratic criteria, the public won’t understand how democratic norms that encompass human, social and economic rights, were first violated by the World Bank and IMF.
The UN and democratic countries of Europe remained silent. Every good that UN branches like UNICEF, FAO, UNCTAD, WHO, UNHCR, UNESCO, etc. tried to do was undermined by powerful unilaterally-acting colleagues as well as US military-backed might breathing down every government’s neck. The UN itself needs more democratization so that it is less vulnerable to infiltration and American pressure.
Our own governments violated our rights by accepting SAP’s crippling conditions imposed by global loan-sharks themselves borrowing money to lend out to countries. Posing as development banks, they use the same dubious money-making methods that other global commercial and investment banks use. Yet governments continue irresponsible borrowing for the unnecessary.
SAPs completely slashed tax-funded allocations on health, education, physical infrastructure and much else, diverting money to debt-repayment. In turn it became a reason for more borrowing to pay for what was once entirely tax-funded. A long time ago, essential food rationing enabled the urban poor to get by. The SAP forced a withdrawal of subsidies, credit and other support to small farmers and peasants producing for domestic consumption. Instead the SAP supported a minority of landowners and industrialists producing for export and industries. How is this democratic?

The masses only vaguely understand World Bank/IMF causing usury-based debt but aren’t explained the ulterior motives. SAPs were designed to make our economy conducive to foreign investment and the export of commodities the industrialized west wants, diverting more farmland to cash crops instead of people’s food needs, opening us to imports and foreign investment, needed or not. Some call it re-colonization.
Later, having paved the way for WTO, tax-funded public services, formerly forbidden for sale, were put on the auction block. Underpriced sale prices don’t reflect true and recurring value. Instead privatized state enterprises serve only those who can afford hiked prices, thereby immediately dismissing 80 percent of the population. Countries lose their recurring income source to foreign control and sovereignty. Foreign investors repatriate all profits abroad, rather than reinvesting into widened services as needed.
An entire new generation has passed and made way for another while entrenched political dynasties made a virtue of repression in the name of ‘representative’ government. The ‘democratic process’ in the National Assembly turned out to be quite a spectacle. It was also highly illuminating — an education in how the process is used and abused that no amount of books and lectures could teach. Since the reputations of most politicians have long preceded them, viewers were not newly disillusioned. It was just a shock to discover things were worse than they thought.
Since the 80s, dictatorships dominating the ‘Third World’ began to topple. People believed democracy would bring them their rights and fulfill their needs. It didn’t happen. Instead structural adjustment caused unprecedented hunger and deprivation. In Pakistan, autocrats and industrial barons collaborated with feudalism doubly strengthened by the takeover of some political parties, justifying themselves with democratic lingo.
Nawaz Sharif feels that election to power gives his party the right to centralized and unilateral decision-making, brooking no consensus let alone dissent. Voters are then expected to withdraw from any involvement whatsoever. Completely sweeping aside one of the key factors of democracy – ongoing active citizen participation.
Citizens can’t afford to take any declared democracy for granted but keep a constant eye on how developments affect them locally, spotlighting anything undemocratic. This is possible only when citizens are adequately informed about democratic processes and the justice system protects their self-expression against intimidation. But it’s impossible for the masses kept ignorant by design.
The marginalized can however be empowered by oral and visual education designed for them. Strength also comes from informed numbers banding together. This is exactly where media, essentially television, failed, as it didn’t bring advertising revenue. They do little or nothing for the public interest although they are part of society and profit from it. Only in one recent instances before the sit-ins began, one channel telecast a series of simple lectures for laypersons and uninformed citizens by Dr. Qadri on specific Articles of the Constitution listing the requisites for citizens and democracy.
In a participatory democracy citizens need to be informed about public issues and debate them on an ongoing basis. As taxpayer-funded institutions, the government media – PTV and Radio Pakistan – should especially be doing this.
Instead, NGOs undertook this task because no one else would. But NGO outreach is limited, and unable to link theory with practice without getting involved in local politics that is bound to raise the ire of local dominant politicians and parties. So it leaves the effort half-done.
A lot of unparliamentary language was used by some politicians. The spat between Aitzaz Ahsan and Chaudhry Nisar and the not-so-veiled threats was highly entertaining. Most parliamentarians seized the opportunity of being on national television to talk about their illustrious pedigrees and claimed track records while exposing the limits of their knowledge and expertise. The Speaker blocked all except those permitted by the PM. Women said nothing. Hardly democratic. The former PM stepped-down gentleman-like, without making an ego-issue of resigning. But then, the law in Pakistan is largely a matter of interpretation. It’s easy to understand why the opposition backs the PM irrespective, but not why Aitzaz chose the PM and a defective process over the people.
The ‘jirga’s’ credibility was instantly killed by the much-discredited Rehman Malik, otherwise known as ‘His Master’s Voice’ and ‘Front Man’, whose chief contribution appears to be pushing Zardari’s idea of endless ‘dialogue’ as a stalling technique, preventing any resolution whatsoever.
Democracy was certainly the best revenge of feudals and the business barons.

This article was published in The Nation on 10th September 2014


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Non-violence vs. the system

September 03, 2014



How does one tame a wild horse? Some animals by nature are easily subordinated, and some just cannot be. Somewhere in the world, there is a breed of horse that roams wild. It is such a free spirit to its core, that it refuses to eat in captivity, starving itself to death unless released. So man has left them alone to roam free.
Early domestication had a harsher treatment for stronger, wild adult dogs. The captured animal was first kept hungry for a prolonged period. After finally feeding it well, it was submitted to training, and punished if it didn’t comply. It was not only starved, but severely beaten until rendered inert by pain and helplessness. Then it was fed and nursed back to health with much attention and care.
By the time training was renewed, the dog usually got the message. Otherwise another cruel round or two did the trick. Once it realized that obeying orders brought good food, shelter and care in return, it became a loyal servant for life. A horrible extreme were those well-treated slaves in Roman times forced to fight to the death as a spectator sport. A modern approach is selectively attempted on humans, even in corporations, bureaucracies and police machinery.
The sharing egalitarian society was the original democracy. Feudalism, tyrannical monarchies and colonial legacies changed all that. Today, the police not only maintain law and order, but might be used for active repression. The poor and marginalized don’t need to be beaten into submission. But when oppression becomes intolerable, both weak and strong do react.
Like the untamable wild horse, some are free spirits. They are less interested in consumerism than in prioritizing survival needs, independent decision-making, pursuing their preferred way of life, and rejecting a power structure disrespectful of others’ autonomy.
To settle disputes, parties follow universally accepted rules. So the current standoff arises from opposed perceptions of democracy. Some take human rights very seriously, not just on paper. For others it’s a convenient label slapped onto an established feudal and patronage system. What some see as elitist entitlement, others see as corruption and nepotism. Entire economies can be dynastic fiefdoms or special-interest cabals; police and bureaucracy are merely tools of enforcement. Democracy is perfectly adhered to in appearance and form. — Except that the media exposes its ugly, hidden side.
Some sections of relatively comfortable civil society insist that the ‘democratic process’ should not be ‘derailed’ under any circumstances; but that’s exactly what protestors don’t want either; that they be activated instead.
There is deafening silence on the part of some ‘democratic process.’ Even a section of civil society working for social and human rights don’t see the dead-end reality of double standards; of laws selectively applied to the weak but not the strong. The Model Town case is no big deal; nor the other underhand police actions that followed!
Diversionary tactics swept primary issues – basic needs and curtailing corruption – under the carpet. Not once did the government offer to correct these with clear-cut plans. Yet revolutionaries — out to undo the status quo – are expected to follow ‘rules’ that government itself refuses to. After two generations, and millions having passed away without ever knowing a decent life, many are unwilling to wait for the turtle-slow ‘process’ to bring results.
After 17 days of peaceful, determined non-violence, viewers watched in horror and incredulity the unexpected all-night assault that unfolded on television screens, with militarized riot police using methods usually reserved for enemy combatants on battlefields.
Comparisons flashed through countless minds. How is this qualitatively different from the way the Israelis enclose and oppress the hapless, unarmed Palestinians in Gaza? Or was it more like Iraq, where phosphorous and other chemical weapons were used, passed off here as ordinary tear gas? Or did it resemble the infamous 1919 Jallianwala Bagh (Amritsar) massacre when Colonel Dyer and his men mercilessly gunned down a crowd trapped in a walled-off area?
A non-violent movement gives despotic governments a bad image. Once the idea is understood, non-violence makes it easier for the poor and weak to join up and swell the ranks. So it becomes necessary to nip it in the bud – to drive people to a breaking point that can spark violence in the most non-violent of persons, when opportunistic mobs can no longer be differentiated from real political workers.
When the call was made to move to the lawns of the Prime Minister’s house, it was touching to watch the women carrying their babies, their rolled-up mats, their water-cans and bundles of clothes, to trustingly walk forward. That day the crowd had swelled to a peak: an unexpected side-effect of the ‘dharna’ was that it served as ‘langar’ (free food kitchen) for the curious or unemployed looking for a free meal.
Several times during the 17 days when police contingents would suddenly appear and surround the protestors, there would be a palpable “silence of the lambs” – before police relaxed or melted away. Protestors were lulled into confidence by government statements that they’d never be fired upon. Unfortunately, their non-violence made them sitting targets.
It takes a particular kind of person to be violent on order without any compunction whatsoever. If lucky, soldiers trained for war may never see battle, while others return as psychological wrecks because they belatedly discover they can’t stomach killing and atrocities. After all, people are not born violent, cruel and sadistic. The potential may be dormant, but degree and willingness vary. Some cops are able to impersonalize the violence they inflict on others. Some come into it for livelihood because of a lack of choice; some to acquire power which they don’t otherwise have, so that others can’t push them around. Few choose it so they can be Robin Hoods.
What kind were those involved in the Model Town and PM House operations? It’s a frightening thought, especially when it’s been going on and growing for almost seven decades. With fellow-citizens like these, who needs enemies? With ‘democracy’ like this, who needs martial law? Some emperors become so devoid of guilt and shame, they no longer care about being seen without any clothes on. An old adage from Bengal baldly summed up the attitude of ancient kings: “It’s because I am shameless, the kingdom is entirely mine.”
One question remains unanswered. When unarmed protestors, including women and children were shot from the back and shelled all night, why didn’t the army step in — not to declare martial law, but to stop the Punjab Police assault? Can’t citizens expect that much without compromising the army when their own government attacks them?
Hopefully PTI and PAT have learnt many lessons: don’t trust party-hoppers; playing cards aren’t shown off once dealt; all boats shouldn’t be burnt; and chickens shouldn’t be publicly counted before they’re hatched. They inadvertently armed the sharp-speaking lawyer, PPP’s Aitzaz Ahsan, who set the tone for other speakers to safely follow, to take pot-shots at the PM to grab away some bargaining chips while leaving the dynastic parties of the three provinces intact (in the same breath undermining PAT and PTI – albeit to an already captive National Assembly).
Over a century and a half ago, Claude Frédéric Bastiat, a political economist, a liberal theorist, and member of the French Assembly warned: “When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.”

This article was published in the The Nation on 3 September 2014




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The police state

By Najma Sadeque

It seemed so appropriate, so symbolically powerful, that the forgotten, unserved – but not unwashed — masses of a ‘democracy’ should place themselves at the doorstep of the Supreme Court, the highest authority, to appeal for justice that’s never been their lot. For once, one really expected hearts and consciences to be touched. Turns out such things only happen in fairy tales and movies.

The laundry on public bushes and walls (tax-enabled), were too unsightly for some sensibilities. ‘Elected representatives’ found their beauty sleep disturbed by the thousands of protestors (they are supposed to represent) who can’t sleep when the sun and rain beat down on them. So much so, that, the JI chief surprisingly found it necessary to make a statement on behalf of the elite’s frazzled nerves!

For over a decade, reportage has been rising about the increasing use of the police, globally, to contain and intimidate civilians. Especially since George Bush introduced his ‘Patriot’ and ‘Home Security’ measures to justify reducing civil liberties, right to information and freedom of expression. A few months ago, a book self-explanatorily titled “A Government of Wolves: the Emerging American Police State”,was launched in the US, by John Whitehead, an attorney, and President of the Rutherford Institute, a non-profit civil liberties organisation. What does this have to do with the rest of the world? Plenty, in a globalized one.

Police states were once mostly associated with Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union of old, Chile, and South Africa of apartheid days. Colonial governments were in effect police states. While the degree of repression varies, today’s non-western police state is associated with multinational corporations and banks. Police look less and less like the formerly unarmed neighbourhood cop and more and more like aggressive, trigger-happy soldiers seeking blood.

John Whitehead points out some $34 billion has been spent on militarizing the US police – with lethal, high-powered machine guns, silencers, night-vision equipment, helmets, armored cars, even surveillance aircraft – to deal with their own resisting population. Over $60 billion was poured into the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and its 240,000 full-time personnel – enough for entire economic budgets of some countries. There is very little to distinguish them from military soldiers except the department that employs them. Allies ape them when they can afford similar equipment – they make popular import products; or their sponsor country generously gifts or subsidizes them.

These have grim implications for countries still trapped by unnecessary ‘development’ loans and unrepayable debts, and export-orientation that benefit only a tiny elite while further impoverishing the masses, especially the peasantry that produces export commodities.

It’s been happening since World Bank and IMF became the government-behind-the-scenes in countries that gained ‘independence’ around the same time. It worsened when they ensured permanent poverty through “structural adjustment” for over three decades.

It was finally made disastrous when gullible or greedy governments conceded to multinational-globalist plans under the WTO — to treat the entire world as a single economic unit for sourcing natural resources and agricultural commodities, irrespective of national and local politics and preferences. The offending term of colonization or neo-colonialism was merely replaced with the more palatable terms of foreign investment and ‘free trade’.

For citizens who didn’t like the idea of ‘elected’ political representatives signing away their rights, livelihoods and public goods, police statism became necessary to enforce international agreements signed against public will. It provided convenient ‘legal’ cover to business and political self-interests that enjoy benefits or a cut.

The inhuman contract system, for example, that hits most workers, never allowing permanent jobs, incremental raises, healthcare or pensions, has as much to do with globalization as with feudalism; with preserving both the national and global-political-economic status quo through maintaining ‘law and order’.

Development and democracy became associated with ‘efficiency’ – squeezing the highest output and profits from the least input — irrespective of human and environmental costs. Government increasingly represented global corporate interests, not national. Sovereignty became archaic.

It was once believed that if people were paid deservedly and well, especially at the highest level making critical decisions affecting citizens, they are unlikely to descend to bribery and corruption. This work wells for the average Joe who wants to retain his job, doesn’t have lofty ambitions and is content with basics fulfilled and the things in life that are ‘free’ — such as the joys of family and community life. But it seldom applies on politicians, and now, seemingly, no longer on other decision-makers either. The system again got scuttled by lack of transparency and timely accountability.

Perhaps different criteria and conditions need to be applied? – elected representatives, who mostly have other sources of income, paid minimum wages officially considered adequate for a minimum level of survival – to make them think when comparing with their personal costs of living? Making representation proportionate to social categories, such as labour, small farmers, women, not just based on size of administrative unit? A separate ‘social’ police system to protect citizens? When have feudal and industrialists members and ministers ever been representative of ordinary people? It may even attract genuine good Samaritans and social welfarists into politics.

Offices and factories deduct wages when workers are absent; does the PM (and other reps) get paid anyway even when they play hooky? Aren’t taxpayer citizens entitled to know?

Generalized views of the PAT and PTI ideals may not appeal to rigidly secular minds, but a progressive Imran Khan and the scholarly Dr. Qadri should hardly be clubbed falsely with the fanatics in and around the country. Such assumptions brush aside real issues of pervasive corruption and rights and needs. Besides, citizens can always support specific causes without joining a party.

Whether the protestors realize it or not, or others refuse to acknowledge, there have already been victories for the revolution-in-progress which will determine the course of future politics. – Even if total victory isn’t in sight. The first victory the police inadvertently handed to them for the first time in Pakistan, thanks to fast-responding TV channels that captured the most damning evidence. Henceforth the police, not just in Islamabad – will think twice — knowing ultimate authorities are too cowardly to admit responsibility or take the flak.

The other victory is the emergence of the new activist generation – which most weren’t even aware was quietly growing — including educated middle-class, youth, the sea of women side by side, all more aware than the previous generation, plus elders clinging with renewed hope despite the world having passed them by.

For senior citizens who had long given up hope of ever seeing the poor receiving all basic needs even if not a wholly egalitarian society, the turnout for PAT and PTI sparked an unexpected glimmer of hope.

No one expected the sit-in to go beyond a few days, especially after torrential rains. They displayed what we’ve never seen before – dedication and staying power – asking not for the moon, but merely the end of protected institutionalized corruption, and for justice.

People are actually asking for very, very little. If a government can’t even ensure this little, for what purpose is government?

This article was published in the The Nation on 27 August, 2014


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Container democracy

August 20, 2014

Some believe revolution fails when there’s no immediate change of government. But revolution can be a process, progressing in stages, the pressure taking months or years. In developed America, the system became seriously corrupted, increasingly ‘corporatized’ and militarized, especially after Reagan’s time. Only big money buys Presidents and power and the courts. Princeton University has just released an in-depth study to illustrate why the US is no longer a functioning democracy. The little guys don’t stand a chance.

Consequently, the attempted revolution there – the Occupy Movement (and the older Green Party) focusing on economic democracy and ordinary people — is harder, and takes longer. It has been three years already, but it keeps moving, spreading to over 900 towns and cities. The withdrawal from the Vietnam War was a people’s revolution, albeit narrower. Oligarchies have a grip both here and there. But circumstances are so dire here, we can’t afford leisurely change.

Why should other parties object to justice for the poor? They don’t. They object to the undoing of a crooked system that facilitates undue power and profits. The deprivation of the masses is an unintended consequence. It’s supposedly the administration’s fault. Those opposed to the revolution are fighting to preserve the status quo; nothing personal!

Lacking other justification, a desperate government has awarded religious-like sanctity to the Red Zone which the revolutionists originally had not even considered – and which the present power itself violated when previously in opposition (even carrying placards against looting of the poor, high prices, and selling of public enterprises).

But has the revolution painted itself into a corner with premature deadlines? Wouldn’t it have been better to accelerate nuisance value, spurring widened activism with a continued diet of damaging exposes? It unexpectedly happened when Dr. Qadri announced bringing the revolution virtually to everyone’s doorstep. Those unable to go to Islamabad no longer lose out on being part of the revolution. No leaving home for weeks, living under the open sky, continuous discomfort, lack of sleep. Much more difficult for officialdom to crush. If they beat down on one, it can move elsewhere. No need to crash ‘Red Zones’. Brilliant actually. How long can the cops cope, especially when current pre-emptive arrests leave no more room in jails?

It’ll be an ongoing process, learning the use of the tools of participatory democracy that Dr. Qadri calls for. ‘Representative democracy’, to date, has been in appearance only — sans people’s voice or consent after casting of votes. Throughout, the powers-that-be interpreted ‘mandate’ to mean absolute power without room for dissent or debate. Constituencies rendered voiceless and unserved for five year stretches.

No taxation without representation. – That’s another message. Claimed representation didn’t exist in practice. Too many including the elected, don’t pay taxes. More black money siphoned abroad than all taxes put together. Delayed income tax payments won’t create too many problems. But non-payment of utilities? What when they’re disconnected? How will people cook? How will businesses and home-based women workers earn? – Unless friendly persuasion wins over gas and electricity functionaries to the cause?

Palpable change on a country-wide scale seldom comes overnight, especially where development has been poor or non-existent. The principle and plans have to be differentiated from the implementation. Enough competent personnel are needed. How does one replace or reform functionaries, bureaucrats and police – not just colluding politicians and ministers — accustomed to earning more from bribes than salaries, or doing nothing?

Yet, the first step has been a successful one. — The first step being the planting of the idea amongst a vast number, that a revolution is necessary and possible. Few believed it could be when first spelt out in unambiguous terms. Earlier, a proliferation of armchair anchors and critics, barring some exceptions, had a field-day; months of undermining such hopes along with the personalities behind them.

In time, other parties will have to shape up or ship out. Programmes of reform and plans in terms that ordinary people can understand and personally identify with, will have to be matched by other parties if they are to remain relevant.

Some parties considered their options. Should they jump on the bandwagon? Some backed off. Some simultaneously made overtures while performing a balancing act ….. in case the revolution didn’t pan out immediately.

Rival parties have reason to worry. Most, like Zardari, depend on the status quo and a manipulative system to survive. Ultimately, they’ll have to put their money where their mouths are instead of in Swiss and other offshore banks, to prevent followers from jumping ship away from the feudal hold, ‘biradiri’, and empty promises.

Disturbingly, vast numbers don’t even know they have rights. So the revolutionary process involves comprehensive education and awareness. Unknown or unnoticed earlier, a headstart already existed. It started a generation ago, not as a political revolution but a purely social movement. It focused strongly on education, health and other basics of life. It first displayed its outlook, numbers, and outstanding organization and steadfastness at the Awami Tehreek’s first Islamabad sit-in.

Although Dr. Tahirul Qadri’s focus on revolution may have came late in life in response to a fast-deteriorating socio-economic condition, it turned out to be the perfect foundation for political change. Followers come from largely modest backgrounds, but are educated or skilled. They are already aware of basic rights, and brought up on principles of justice, equity, give-and-take. They made smooth transitions into the political mode without feeling the difference. In the ultimate, it’s the personal that’s political.

There’s no doubting the integrity of either leader. They come unaccompanied by the baggage of corruption that clings to most politicians. Given KPK’s culture as a tough, martial race, one can only marvel they tolerated appalling neglect for so long.

Unlike what most people are led to believe, there isn’t just one kind of democracy, either in definition or practice. Being man-made, it is as innovative and variable as the purpose behind it. It is mechanism or goal, depending on the motives of those who design it. Some – whether investors, bureaucrats or cynics — see democracy as a necessary management and administrative tool to handle vast numbers of people constituting an economy, in an orderly fashion. But they too realize that, for people to voluntarily go along with a system imposed on them, it has to make some sense to them.

The idea of democracy is an obvious one, even if the mechanism for achievement is not. People nevertheless need some kind of a roadmap to view themselves in the wider context. A professed democracy, working or not, is one such blueprint. In reform, it involves revamping entire country-wide systems, putting high emphasis and funds into essential public services and public institutions. It has to choose between public duty and playing second fiddle to foreign lending institutions and crippling globalization.

It involves prioritizing policies that upends previous ones. It’s risky business, because corrupt governments and parties have everything to fear from transparency. The greater the inequality gap, the more drastic the steps. But much can be learned from the inspiring Cuban success against global odds and blockades. Unfortunately, revolution often takes an unavoidable toll on victims.

Who could have imagined that containers would be making reluctant history! There’s much to merit containers – they can provide safety, shelter from rain and sun, relative privacy and quiet that everyone needs a degree of, helping marches going longer. Minimal relief helps to counter killjoys, onscreen and off. But containers are a bad idea for containing democracy.

This article was published in The Nation on 20 August, 2014


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For Gaza’s gas fields

The real reason for the unholy haste in razing Gaza that Israel had long rendered unviable 

August 06, 2014


It wasn’t always about gas. Besides, the manufactured ideology justifying an Israeli homeland by displacing the original inhabitants of thousands of years, remains. It just gets increasingly strident, maniacal and intolerant of debate and dissent.

The gas issue started in 1999, when the Palestine National Authority granted British Gas (BG) and the Lebanese-owned Consolidated Contractors International Company (CCC) offshore oil and gas exploration rights for 25 years. The wells drilled promised well over a trillion cubic feet of gas, estimated to be worth $6.5 billion today. But the agreement itself was a shockingly unfair one, amounting to cheating the Palestinians of their fair share. 60% went to BG, 30% to CCC, leaving the Palestinians with a mere 10% — inexplicably committed for Israel’s use on their terms, which suggests the Palestinians were ignorantly advised or deliberately misled.
Even so, it filled the Palestinians with hope, and President Yasser Arafat held a special ceremony to that dream. They would finally be able to get back on their feet and more. Analysts predicted it could be the next Gulf or Saudi Arabia. The Israelis had their share of offshore gas facilities too, but 60% of the gas reserves fell to the Palestinians.
As far as territory was concerned, the thousands of statements and documents, mostly open and echoed by historians and journalists, made it abundantly clear that the Israelis had long planned the takeover of all Palestine. — Especially since 1948 when the UN determined Israelis had the right to carve out their state from someone else’s homeland (never mind what the Palestinians thought). Straightaway then, David Ben-Gurion said, “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population.” That sentiment has been echoed by every Israeli leader, politician and influential personality as they ate away at Palestinian territory and dignity.
Arafat had laid down a condition. Gas from the sea would first be transported to Gaza and then pumped through underground pipes to Israel. That way, Gaza’s ownership over their own resources would be ensured. Seemingly, Arafat had to go, and in 2004, he suddenly took ill and died. Although French medical experts claimed death from natural causes, Swiss experts disputed it. After exhuming his body in 2012, they confirmed he’d been poisoned. It couldn’t be proved by who.
It became easy to thwart the Palestinians after Hamas was elected to power. Both Israel and the US declared Hamas a terrorist organization and refused to negotiate with it — in effect, refusing recognition to an elected government. This turned into an ongoing stand-off that kept Palestinians in limbo. No progress could be made with Gaza’s gas fields.
As with most other countries, Gaza’s jurisdiction extended 20 nautical miles from the coast, but Israel kept muscling in, attacking and driving Gaza’s fishermen from their rich fishing waters, causing severe loss of Gaza’s main protein source, and reducing effective Palestinian control to only 3 nautical miles.
On the 4th of June this year, Palestine was finally recognized by the UN as a sovereign state — what little land they’ve been left with; a long, narrow strip barely 140 square miles (about one-ninth the area of Karachi) and a population density four times that of Bangladesh. But it meant international recognition, including of its offshore rights.
Since the gas discovery, Israel has been constantly throwing a spanner in the works, so that gas extraction never got off the ground. It would pretend to push forward negotiations while simultaneously scuttling the same deals. The Palestinians were subjected to a continuous state of intimidation, deprivation and conflict. They hardly wanted a fight, so the Israelis merely provoked them. In 2001, when PM Ariel Sharon was elected, Palestine’s sovereignty over its gas fields was challenged in the Israeli Supreme Court. Sharon bluntly stated that Israel would never buy gas from Palestine, meaning he considered it Israel’s property.
BG went behind the Palestinians’ back to collude with Israel to exclude Hamas from negotiations. For example, in mid-2007, the Jerusalem Post reported that BG and Israel had planned to transfer gas money accruing to the Palestine Authority into an international bank account until Hamas was out of power, because neither party wanted funds to go into the hands of terrorists! And any payment would be in goods and services, not currency. They were trying to nullify the 1999 contract between BG and Arafat.
In 2008, Israel struck Gaza with ‘Operation Cast Lead’. It killed almost 1400 Palestinians (and 9 Israelis), destroyed over 4000 homes and displaced 50,000 Gazans. It has been surpassed only by the current onslaught.
Routinely harassed and deprived of basics, for no reason except that they are unwanted, 80% of Gazans live below the poverty line, 40% unemployed, and 60% food dependant on UNRWA. Said Teddy Kollek, a former mayor, “We said things without meaning them, and didn’t carry them out … Never have we given them a feeling of being equal before the law. As mayor, I did something for Jewish Jerusalem in the past 25 years. For Arab East Jerusalem? Nothing! Yes, we installed a sewage system for them and improved water supply. You know why? You think it was for their good, for their welfare? Forget it! There were cases of cholera there, and the Jews were afraid that they would catch it, so we installed a sewage and water system against cholera.”
Things suddenly went wrong. After Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak was relieved of power in 2011, Islamist groups forced the government to cancel the 20 year contract and cut off gas supplies to Israel, despite the crippling loss of foreign exchange. Then they got further sobering news about their own energy situation.
Israeli chief scientists asked to draft a gas policy, discovered inflated reserve figures, underestimation of future demand, and overestimation of production potential. Besides, all the gas was not necessarily commercially recoverable. The government was advised to drastically reduce gas exports as reserves would be depleted in less than 4 decades, forcing return to horrendously expensive oil. Israel will face severe gas shortage from 2015 – next year.
The report was suppressed until the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz obtained a leaked copy. The Israelis now wanted Gaza’s gas fields immediately to offset short supply – but without paying for it. For them, that meant getting rid of Hamas. Only a harsh military operation could possibly uproot them.
An excuse was needed to start a war. There wasn’t any, so they simply provoked. Kidnappings and killings, even of their own kind, are old ‘false flags’ they could blame Hamas or anyone else for.
Emboldened and able to blackmail even their sponsor, the US, which gives more military aid to Israel than all other countries combined, Israel went for the kill without so much as a by-your-leave. After all, the US routinely vetoes any UN resolution critical of Israel – 43 times so far, more than all other countries combined on other issues. And the rest of the west has still not been able to shake off the psychological grip the US has on them.

This article was published in The Nation on 6 August, 2014


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The revolution: if it comes

August 01, 2014


The last time there was a revolution here, it was a misnomer. It was not even indigenous. It was an American transplant called ‘green’ because it concerned agriculture — even though it replaced healthy manure with chemical fertilizer that once constituted arsenals for mass killing during the world wars and thereafter. It had far reaching negative consequences in South Asia, including Pakistan.
Although few realized it, and most still don’t acknowledge or understand it, thus began the takeover of agriculture, the mainstay of most economies including the USA’s, eroding our attempts at democracy and badly needing countering by another kind of revolution. Since then, Pakistan has been easy economic prey for strategies formulated outside including grooming our own kind as experts, decision-makers, movers and shakers in the globalised mould far removed from local culture and needs.
If rights are for all people irrespective of gender, is revolution even possible when there are elements that insist on women remaining subservient on claimed but unconvincing religious grounds that violate fundamental human rights? From that point of view, has any previous government really been democratic in practice at the grassroots level? Women, after all, make up half of any population.
Having mostly powerless women in parliament has made little difference to the masses, whatever the lip-service. Denial persists about what would happen to the economy if the horrendously exploited unpaid and underpaid women were taken out of agriculture as well as contractual services, both home-based and factory-based.
It was under very different circumstances, but since oppression and tyranny are similar everywhere, women could take inspiration from the Russian Revolution almost a century ago. Most historians routinely ignore women except as an aside. But an About.com summary provides a little-quoted but illuminating part of women’s history.
“On Thursday, February 23, 1917, women workers in Petrograd left their factories and entered the streets to protest. It was International Women’s Day and the women of Russia were ready to be heard. An estimated 90,000 women marched through the streets, shouting “Bread” and “Down With the Autocracy!” and “Stop the War!” These women were tired, hungry, and angry. They worked long hours in miserable conditions in order to feed their families because their husbands and fathers were at the front, fighting in World War I. They wanted change. They weren’t the only ones. The following day, more than 150,000 men and women took to the streets to protest. Soon more people joined them and by Saturday, February 25, the city of Petrograd was basically shut down.”
Czar Nicolas was forced to abdicate a few days later, and he and his family came to a horrible end thereafter. It starkly illustrated that it doesn’t pay to ignore basic rights and needs. The instinct for survival, the unbearable sorrow over the helplessness to care for loved ones, the burning desire for revenge, people – or those among them left with enough strength and fighting spirit — will eventually revolt.
As Chris Blattman, an American commentator, put it plainly and simply: “You want to know why revolutions happen? Because little by little by little, things get worse and worse.”
Nothing really happens overnight. People are driven to a merciless extreme for inexplicably long periods, before they curl up and die … or react.
Not that all revolutions are or have to be violent. The most impressive political movement in recent history took place in the Philippines in 1986, from which the term “people power” came widely into use. The country had suffered not one but three colonizations, and their last so-called saviours bled the resource-rich country white as its leadership colluded with American takeover and control of the country’s assets.
Few know that for almost two decades, the Philippines crushed domestic economy was held up by an endless stream of tens and thousands of women workers, who migrated to work in the Arab oil-rich and other countries to earn foreign exchange while their husbands stayed behind to mind the children. — So much so that the government set up a department to facilitate their travel. They made popular employees because they were all educated and spoke English. They were not just domestic workers; they were nannies-cum-teachers too.
But the revolution didn’t work out in the long run, because in spite of the dictator Marcos having to flee, the same old political and corporate elements took over again later. The men at home didn’t organize or plan enough. — So much for women’s sacrifices.
Many opine a revolution’s been long overdue, first in 1971 when the country broke in two, to ensure that the conditions that led to it wouldn’t recur. That didn’t happen. Not even with the passing of General Ziaul Haq, or with the imposition of crippling structural adjustment policies by the World Bank/IMF — a devious way of legitimizing violation of rights and mass deprivation. Instead cosmetic democracies took over, but even those didn’t address the public interest or public participation or land reform, even though each had opportunity twice over. We’ve had both party and non-party elections without democracy.
Corruption seeped into each and every level of official and daily life, so that there’s no escape from paying ‘bhatta’ — to be allowed to work or do business or just to exist. Even the roadside vendor or daily-wage labourer isn’t exempt. As Ramadan wound up, despite Rangers operations, ‘bhatta’ collectors of various political colours turned up at people’s doorsteps to collect the 100-rupee ‘fitra’ per person.
Jobs in the public sector have been on sale or for allocation to favourites for decades now. It made life, including investing in local small enterprise, increasingly unaffordable, and with the mishandling of energy issues, impossible. The only recourse left is finding jobs abroad or joining up with organized crime: these somehow merge with local politics so that corruption is further entrenched. The police are corrupted beyond redemption and can only be undone by a parallel independent police and legal system exclusively for citizens, not the same law-and-order police muscle catering to ruling groups.
While state resources and assets meant to provide public services are undemocratically privatized and sold off, when unprecedented hunger and unemployment are not considered concerns, when vast tracts of public property needed for productive purposes are sold off to foreign investors and domestic fronts, what territory or sovereignty is there left for a state military to defend? — Or to earn and pay our bills with? Isn’t the unnecessary borrowing within less than a year the equivalent of what was borrowed in almost three decades, not something to worry about? What choices are left when even officialdom defies High Court and Supreme Court rulings?
In Pakistan, the process of movements unraveling, whether genuine or pretended, has been a familiar one. Dr Mark Almond, Professor in International Relations, explains it thus:
“Graceful exits are rare in revolutions, but the offer of secure retirement can speed up and smooth the change. But if insiders and the men with guns begin to question the wisdom of backing a regime – or can be bought off – then it implodes quickly. …..What collapses a regime is when insiders turn against it. So long as police, army and senior officials think they have more to lose by revolution than by defending a regime, then even mass protests can be defied and crushed. Remember Tiananmen Square.”

This article was published in The Nation on 1 August, 2014


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