Monday, July 27, 2009

Whither Pakistan Politics? The Fate Of Local Bodies

After the new elected parliaments and people came into power there was a general impression that they will work towards improving governance, devolution to grass root levels, including empowering marginalised segments of society like women and children , illiterate and poor workers and farmers. This was especially expected of the Pakistan Peoples Party as it won a mandate in all four provinces and is considered people friendly.Somehow many prejudices have emerged both in Sindh and Punjab and the basic idea of devolution is bieng attacked by both the PPP and Muslim League (Nawaz) by abolishing the local bodies govt., and replacing them with administrators or beauracrats. After watching much debates , I have come to the conclusion that this much antidemocratic step is bieng taken by both the parties in pesuance of their own agendas and I think to the detrimant of democracy and it's spirit of power to the people, hastily and with complete misunderstanding of the process.
In Punjab , the PML (Nawaz) thinks and I emphasise , that the chief minister wants to rule the administration in the commissionerate style which is a bad and poor example of old style, colonial governance. This kind of administrative system is now defunct in most of civilised states and only helps to breed more autocracy, corruption and centralisation of power. It makes the execution of development projects at smaller levels more difficult and is never suitable for the modern underdeveloped or developing states like Pakistan. This model of governance where the Chief minister will juggle the powers, progress, administration and everything will destroy whatever governance is built in Punjab which is the most populous, most progressive province in development in Pakistan. Here the nazim Lahore who has been elected twice has performed considerably well and a lot of development has taken place.The issue of corruption will be discussed by me in full deatail in a future post as we will discuss the mechanisms to check or handle corruption and monitoring of projects and the comparisons with such mechanisms in other forms of administrative setups will be discussed in detail for the reader.After listening to the prominent members of PML-N I have come to the conclusion that they and especially the Chief Minister Punjab is opposing the local govt., system only because President Musharraf introduced the system and this system ran under him. He had a hidden agenda as he made these elections non-party like Ayub Khan and of course he intended to use the nazims for his power. The pretention of his National Reconstruction Beaurue chief that he was the visualiser and creator of this concept is a farce. This concept has been in vogue for a long time and most modern states like Germany, France and Britain now successfully practice this form of governance. I edited a book by Akhtar Ali in 1996, The Political Economy Of Pakistan, An Agenda for Reforms and Restructuring in which he gives the concept as a system of governance for the people so that they are helped at the lowest teir by good and self governance. The irony is that the media is inviting people like Danyal Aziz , who maybe sincere in their defence but as they have worked with Musharraf are not acceptable to the elected or prodemocracy people and especially The PML-N, and their defence of the system makes these parties cringe away more.
The PML-N will be doing itself a damage by doing away with this system and going back to the old administrative system. The corruption scandals plaguing their parties coming to light almost everyday also are reflective of the mindset and state of their legislators capability to handle governance and clean concience. I am not against any party but they have to bring reforms in their own parties and improve their understanding of democratic values,governance and devolution of power at lower levels. They do not seem to be in sync with modern issues.
The Pakistan Peoples Party in Sindh is giving it a flavour of the MQM" is bad and is ruling Karachi" flavour. They are in coalition because Mr Zardari has cleverly and rightly managed to take the parties in coalition.So far so good. The mindset of the Sindh faction of PPP seems that Karachi is part of Sindh and somehow is slipping away from the hands of "Sindhis" is reflective of the Qaumi (nationalist) prejudice which they put on MQM as a blame. The real truth here is that the MQM even before it came into power is organised in a way where the lowest level worker in the party has to work diligently in solving civic problems. I am a witness to this in 1987 when I saw the dirty streets of Ranchore Lines and Jubilee areas , in very old Karachi, transformed into neat and clean streets with garbage removed and the sidewalks and large walls painted with "Choona"white lime, also acts as disinfectant by these MQM workers. This kind of civic activity is continued uptil now and it was only natural for these people to adapt and work out the Local Govt., model to good governance. The Karachi Nazim is young and down to earth, so in continuance with his party"s actions he has made Karachi a much better city. The apprehensions of PPP (mostly fuedal )leaders are ill founded . Mohtarma Benazir also favored the local government and devolution of power to the lowest level of governance.The 1973 constitution also helps in this. The elections can be on party basis.
Out of the 18 Nazims in Sindh province ,only 4 are from MQM and as they are working on the ideal model, they should be copied in all other areas and not blamed for something they have not done. I have lived in Sindh and am very aware of their rural and urban issues. I am sure if all Sindh adopts the good governence model literally,in rural and city areas the PPP will really help it's votebank. Places like Sukkur are suffereing immensely and the old system of governance has failed miserably for all to see. The PPP instead of accusing MQM for something they have not done, should infact invite people like Mustafa Kamal and his team to plan a pilot model for Sukkur and implemnt it themselves. People like Fahim Zaman, former administrator of KMC , Karachi appoianted by Mohtarma Benazir is an ideal man to be taken as an advisor on this. Only by emulating the Karachi model will improve Sukkur tremendously and help Sindh people . If the model for development is already is tested then it can be improved. The idea of many PPP parliamentarians that by abolishing this system will somehow diempower MQM in Karachi especially and will somehow dent their votebank is very naive indeed!
It seems that the PPP in Sindh is still in the frame of mind of "fighting the dictator "and because of the untimely Shahadat of Mohtarma Benazir has not been able to address the issue of devolution and decentralisation in the present context.I sincerely hope the young leadership of PPP understands the real governance issues .

The "giving in" to the demands and whims of Punjab at this stage maybe considered expedient by Mr Zardari now at this stage but failure to address this basic political reform and governance issue in it's true perspective and context will be massively damaging in the longer run. We also have to keep in mind that as increasing inflation, energy crises, job instability is crushing the common man, the thrust of fascist forces like the militants and people who abuse the constitution and the government and army of Pakistan, now openly on tv, will be able to damage democracy and devolution of power to grass roots with an unretrievable force. PML-N and PPP maybe cutting the branch with a saw on which they are sitting!

The issue of addressing the problems in system can be solved even when local governments are in office. We need to strengthen reforms and restructure according to our needs and not abolish the whole syystem and start experimenting with a new one. If this system is improved, new elections held on party basis , constitutional cover given to local bodies, I see no reason for the people of Pakistan of not getting the fruits of democracy. I again insist that the politicians understand that politics in the modern world is not about playing dirty tricks and staying in power and ruling the people like Raja or Feudal lord, but it is devolution of power and governance to the people at grass roots.Only this way the people will be able to have their say in their own development and destiny.Democracy and fairplay are the only solutions in the modern day.

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