The next hundred days —Talat Masood

With the coalition’s future uncertain, the government is finding it difficult to get its act together. There are too few ministers holding multiple portfolios, which is seriously affecting governance

Over the years, the Pakistani people have shown great patience despite being subjected to poor governance and gross neglect by their governments. They have demonstrated the same spirit of forbearance and passivity during the first hundred days of the new civilian government, despite the high hopes and euphoria witnessed after the elections.

What the government was able to achieve or failed to accomplish in its first hundred days has been the subject of intense print and media analyses. It would be useful now to focus on what the minimum justifiable expectations from this government in the next hundred days ought to be.

Most importantly, the judges’ issue cannot remain hostage to realpolitik and be left in limbo anymore. It has weakened if not paralysed the entire judicial system, and has polarised the institution into two camps — PCO and non-PCO judges. The ramifications of this are extremely grave.

The future of President Pervez Musharraf also cannot be left in abeyance. His legitimacy has been the bone of contention between our political actors and remains so. His presence negates the electorate’s verdict, reinforces the militaristic nature of the state and acts as a barrier against the forces of democratic change.

Musharraf has a highly controversial legacy and his strong links with the Bush administration have discredited the fight against militancy. The country needs a more unifying figure, preferably from Balochistan or the NWFP as President in these troubled times and further vacillation on the part of Mr Zardari on this issue would not be in the national interest.

Parliament should be given the pre-eminence it deserves in a democratic setup. All major policy decisions should be discussed and owned by the parliament. It has to become the true centre of power.

Why is there reluctance to have this so? Is it that our civilian leaders are just as authoritarian as the military ones and prefer to keep institutions powerless, to rule arbitrarily and without accountability?

The two most important leaders of the coalition, Mr Zardari and Mr Sharif, are outside the parliament. As they are the real decision makers, they have to accept responsibility for their actions and this is only possible if they are members of parliament and holding public office.

It has also been observed that parliamentarians are not sufficiently committed and motivated, and skip sessions frequently. Many parliamentarians prefer to spend time outside rather than inside the parliament and on several occasions, parliament has had to be prorogued due to lack of quorum.

It is for the parliamentarians to make the parliament more effective. There is a mistaken belief among some that until the establishment loosens its hold, power will never be transferred to them and they will not be able to play their assigned role.

On the contrary, once parliamentarians start legislating and formulating major national policies, power will automatically flow towards them. After all, constitutionally, legally and morally, it is the parliament that is the sovereign body.

The regular functioning of parliamentary committees is necessary to give dynamism and power to the parliament. New committees have yet to be formed. No further time should be lost and these should start functioning soon to energise the parliament.

With the coalition’s future uncertain, the government is finding it difficult to get its act together. There are too few ministers holding multiple portfolios, which is seriously affecting governance. Major political decisions cannot be left unaddressed, especially when the country is facing huge challenges.

The present practice of our top leaders to hold meetings abroad on major domestic issues is astonishing. Apart from the expense involved for a poor country like Pakistan, it is demeaning and bizarre. This indirectly is a reflection of the scant interest that our leaders have in affairs of the state.

Two recent decisions taken by the civilian government indicate that it is shy of taking responsibility in matters concerning security issues. Formulating policy on the war on terror, providing resources and overseeing its faithful implementation, and taking full responsibility for its consequences is the government’s job. The armed forces are there to execute the orders.

Of course, maximum autonomy should be given to the military in planning and conducting the operations. But the present government does not seem to be involved either in policymaking or in coordinating the political, social, economic and military aspects of the war on terror.

As a consequence it will never be able to get the support of the masses, which is crucial in winning this type of irregular warfare.

Similarly, when Dr AQ Khan made certain allegations about the complicity of President Musharraf and others in proliferation activities, the government distanced itself and allowed the Strategic Plans Division to counter Khan’s allegations.

In this case, the government should have taken control and been the arbitrator and interlocutor so that allegations and counter-allegations would not harm Pakistan’s national interests.

The Balochistan conflict, which is a low intensity insurgency, should not be allowed to simmer. The government since its assumption of office has taken certain positive and conciliatory measures but they are not enough. It has yet to address the basic causes that have given rise to the insurgency. Any further neglect of this strategically important province would lead to the strengthening of nationalist forces that could be detrimental to the integrity of the federation.

In the next hundred days, the government should finalise a comprehensive energy plan to meet the current and future needs. It must act fast. The shortage in power generation and transmission is costing the country billions in terms of production costs and is highly demoralising. Rising fuel and commodity prices have to be tackled with great acumen and sensitivity as well.

Clearly, these are huge challenges, but are equally great opportunities for any government that wants to win the trust of the people it proudly claims to represent.

The writer is a retired Lieutenant General of the Pakistan Army. He can be reached at talat@comsats.net.pk

Source: Daily Times, 10/7/2008

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