Corruption, Democracy and Politics

January 1, 2010

By Sadiq Saleem
This article appeared in The News on January 1, 2010

The Canadian prime minister has delayed parliamentary proceedings for three months to by-pass expanding opposition criticism. The Japanese prime minister has lost popularity within a couple of months of winning a general election. The US president has not even completed a year in office but his approval ratings are down and the media is criticizing him for everything under the sun. The British prime minister has faced a major parliamentary corruption scandal and is at the lowest ebb of popularity.

Yet in none of these democracies is anyone predicting the end of the government or calling for “someone” to save the country from its elected leaders.Pakistan’s unique history of repeated extra-constitutional interventions has created a mindset that does not accept the notion of elected governments having a mandate to complete their terms, notwithstanding unpopular decisions or scandals and charges propagated by a hostile media. Ending corruption is a noble and popular cause that has, in the past, been used in Pakistan to undermine democracy.

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How Democracies Deal with Corruption

December 30, 2009

By Sadiq Saleem

Ending corruption is a noble and popular cause that has, in the past, been used in Pakistan to undermine democracy. As Pakistan’s Supreme Court vigorously adopts this cause with the support of a zealous media it is important to remember that the job of courts is not to do what is popular but rather what is judicious. Legal action against the allegedly corrupt must be taken without undermining the democratic system or overturning the mandate given by the people in a general election.

The Supreme Court declared the National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) that came into effect on October 5, 2007 ultra vires on grounds that it was discriminatory. That should restore the pending proceedings in various courts. But these proceedings should not become an excuse to overturn the mandate given by the people of Pakistan in the general elections of February 18, 2008.

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Ehtesab’s Ten-Year Deception

December 18, 2009

This article appeared in The News on December 18, 2009

The most significant question about accountability was neither asked nor answered during the Supreme Court proceedings about the NRO: If President Zardari has assets of $1.5 billion (which means $1500 million) then why only $73 million in assets were frozen or subjected to litigation abroad? Furthermore, if the case against Zardari was as open and shut as Ehtesab officials and their supporters in the media have claimed then why was it never settled in Swiss courts after ten years of proceedings before the NRO? In most countries white collar cases with a clear paper trail are resolved within a couple of years.

The terms Ehtesab and accountability were introduced in the Pakistani political lexicon by General Zia-ul-Haq when he cancelled the 1977 election on the basis of the slogan “Pehlay Ehtesab, phir intikhab” (First accountability, then elections). Since then accountability has been a selective political exercise aimed at excluding those not liked by the right wing powers-that-be. The purpose of this particular type of accountability was never to deal with the problem of corruption but to create hype about it. Hence, phrases like “Looti hui daulat qaum ko wapis kee jaye” (Return the looted wealth to the nation) are bandied about without dealing with the substantive legal issues.

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Singh in Washington — and Pakistan’s options

November 24, 2009

This article appeared in The News on November 24, 2009

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s official visit to the United States should have been the major story in Pakistan’s media. But our right-wing anchors and columnists and “get-Zardari” editors are far more focused on the domestic power struggles to realize that the nightmare of Pakistan’s strategic encirclement may already be on the brink of becoming reality.

 

The less attention Pakistanis pay to fighting terrorism and figuring out a way of dealing with the world, the more likely it is that India — the country with which Pakistan has fought four wars in 62 years — will continue to gain ground. India already has better relations with the governments of Afghanistan and Iran, our western neighbours. The more we demonstrate hatred towards the United States, the more we contribute to making the India-US relationship into an anti-Pakistan alliance, which need not be. We could complain and get angry with the US, as the Jamaatis and the Ghairat lobby advocate, or we could analyse the rising Indian influence and figure out ways of combating it.

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Transparency, corruption and perceptions

November 18, 2009

By Sadiq Saleem
This article appeared in The News on November 18, 2009

Transparency International’s new Annual Corruption Perceptions Report and Pakistan’s position on its index is once again the topic of discussion on all TV channels and most newspaper columns, courtesy right wing anchors and columnists. Instead of focusing on the terrorist threat to the Pakistani way of life, the corruption issue is once again being used to create hatred for the political class and to dislodge or weaken an elected government.

 

One can sense a replay of the past, as those who know Pakistan’s history of the 1990s would testify. In Pakistan between 1988 and 1999 no elected civilian government was allowed to complete its term because of alleged corruption. The 1999 military coup that brought General Pervez Musharraf to power was also justified on grounds that Pakistan’s generals were better suited to wage the war against corruption.

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The World’s Reality and Ours

November 7, 2009

This article appeared in The News on November 7, 2009

In repeated opinion poll surveys in Pakistan over the last one year, there has been one thing constant – the rising anti-Americanism in the country. According to the Pew Research Centre, only 16 per cent of Pakistanis surveyed have a favourable view of the United States and 13 per cent have confidence in President Barack Obama.

 

Though there are many reasons for this anti-Americanism, what we cannot deny is that it has a great deal with how the discourse has been shaped by the views and agendas of our political leaders, media personalities, journalists, academics and security establishment.

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Lagay Raho, Media Bhai

November 4, 2009

This article appeared in The News on November 4, 2009

 

On Monday, November 2, thirty-five innocent Pakistanis lost their lives to a terrorist attack. These were ordinary people, standing in line at a bank to receive their monthly salary. They must have gone there with plans of spending that money on their parents, wives, children, brothers and sisters. But for the Pakistani media, especially the TV anchors who have now become the arbiters of what is important and what is not, the death of these poor people was not important. With their usual cast of characters from —Jamaat-e-Islami to Imran Khan to the two Muslim Leagues— the electronic media that day was exclusively focused on the so-called NRO issue.

 

Although the PPP has defused the matter by withdrawing the ordinance from Parliament, there is something artificial about the manner in which the matter of the NRO was made the primary focus of national discussion. The NRO issue took over from debate over the Kerry Lugar Bill, which also died its natural death. Those in the media who considered the Kerry-Lugar Bill a matter of national sovereignty have not even asked the PML-N or PML-Q to bring their own resolutions in the National Assembly on the matter.

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Blame it on America

November 3, 2009

This article appeared in The News on November 3, 2009

Watching American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton interact with university students in Lahore was a sad spectacle. Sadder still was to see our most influential TV anchors and columnists betray their limited knowledge of facts while trying to impress their audience with their solid nationalist credentials.

 

In the aftermath of Hillary’s straight talk, Pakistanis must seriously examine how we discuss international relations on the basis of sentiment and without knowing or examining basic facts. The most glaring error of fact by a Pakistani came during Ms Clinton’s interview with Pakistani TV anchors. One gentleman tried to make the point that the US does not provide enough assistance to Pakistan and that Pakistan’s leaders sell the country cheap. He said that the US paid Kyrgyzstan $700 million in rent for just one airbase. Hillary tried to correct him and said the actual amount of rent was around $50 million. Our anchor-columnist was unfazed and insisted that must be the figure per month. But anyone with access to the internet can find out that as of June this year the US pays Kyrgyzstan $60 million per year as rent for the Manas air force base. Until June the rent was only $17 million.

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Delusions of Strategic Defiance

November 1, 2009

By Sadiq Saleem
This article appeared in The News on November 1, 2009

Pakistan Army is fighting a tough adversary in South Waziristan, who may have been propped up to pose a mortal threat to our country by our traditional enemy. But some politicians, right-wing TV anchors and columnists are doing little to mobilise public support for our troops in the middle of a war. Instead, they remain focused on attacking the elected government, fomenting civil military disagreements, exacerbating anti-Americanism and raising issues that divide the nation instead of uniting it.

 

The events of the last few days are similar to the circumstances created between 1988 and 1990 when Ziaul Haq era Generals Aslam Beg and Hamid Gul plotted what they considered to be a new strategy for an Islamist ideological Pakistani nationalism. During that period, Islami Jamhoori Ittehad (IJI) was born with covert funds meant for national security; Shaheed Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto was called a national security risk and accused of being pro-American; Interior Minister Aitzaz Ahsan was alleged to have given the names of Sikh separatists in India to the Indian government; Foreign Minister Sahibzada Yaqub Khan was described by General Beg as lacking spine to stand up to America; the Pakistani Ambassador to the United States was charged with protecting American rather than Pakistani interests.

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The Real Mystery of the KLB Debate

October 24, 2009

By Sadiq Saleem
This article appeared in The News on October 24, 2009

Now that the orchestrated furore over the KLB aid package for Pakistan is diminishing, it is important to analyze how the country was driven into a frenzy and US-Pakistan relations put at risk by Pakistan’s “Ghairat lobby” and those whose hatred for President Zardari and the current government exceeds their love for Pakistan.

The real mystery of the Kerry-Lugar-Berman Bill is not its conditions or who may originally have proposed or recommended them. The conditions that have been the cause of much shouting and screaming were included in the House of Representatives’ version of the bill that was passed on June 11, 2009. That bill was widely reported in the domestic and international media. If the reporting requirements in the bill were insulting, or if they infringed upon Pakistan’s national sovereignty, why did not the assorted columnists, politicians and right-wing TV anchor persons make the same noise about these conditions in June that they have been making of late?

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