Pakistan: The cost of arbitrary rule

THE whole nation has been in the throes of
turmoil for many days and the controllers of its
affairs are in visible disarray. They are again
trying to suppress the symptoms of discontent
instead of addressing its causes, although it is
now quite clear that all of Pakistan’s problems
stem from arbitrary and secret governance.

A light-weight outfit has thrown the Pakistan
cricket team out of the World Cup competition and
a greater part of the population is howling in
wild rage. Although the setback is not something
unknown to the votaries of the game of glorious
uncertainties, the players are being targeted for
having failed the people’s expectations. Little
attention is being paid to the fact that the
Pakistan cricket has been in a state of decline
for quite some time, and that the responsibility
for the rot lies less with the players than with
the organisers.

The bitter truth is that the Cricket Board has
been afflicted with the same malady - arbitrary
and secretive management - that has been eating
into the vitals of the Pakistan state.

The process of replacement of professional
task-masters with overbearing bureaucrats at
sports bodies (the destruction of Pakistan
hockey, for instance, is no small cause of public
grief) has been going on for quite some time. All
sport has also been commercialised. Monetary
reward is considered the sole motivation for
striving for happy results, though not always for
playing the game as it ought to be played. One
looks in vain for the pack-leaders of yesteryears
who were weak in financial resources and strong
in commitment to the spirit of sport. Above all,
decisions, even critical ones, are taken secretly
and arbitrarily.

The present phase of Pakistan cricket’s decline
began with the Oval affair when it was found to
have fallen into the hands of people whose
knowledge of the game and capacity for crisis
management both were suspect. Although many faces
in the cast could be recognised only one
character was axed in accordance with the
arbitrary style lately developed in Pakistan.
While both the set-up and the system needed to be
shaken up, only a couple of scapegoats were
targeted.

The public has little idea how the Cricket Board
functions, what criteria is followed for the
selection of its all-powerful boss, what the
facts of doping and betting scandals are, and
what arrangements are in place to ensure
financial probity. The public will be satisfied
if it is assured of collective and transparent
decision-making mechanisms. Institutionalised
bungling in sports bodies will cause Pakistan
much greater harm than defeat in a game or two.

Around the same time that Pakistan cricketers
were paying for their barons’ follies, another
form of institutionalised encroachment on
people’s rights was causing grave anxiety to the
organisers of a regional conference of South
Asians for Human Rights in Lahore because the
intelligence agencies were dead-set against
allowing Pakistan visa to Indian invitees. The
delegates from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Maldives,
Nepal and Sri Lanka had not faced much difficulty
in securing visas, but no progress on Indian
delegates’ applications was possible. Then the
authorities relented to the extent that visas
were granted to a few Indian delegates, such as
former prime minister I.K. Gujral, former MP
Kuldip Nayar and Justice (R) Rajinder Sachar.

An overall toughening of attitude towards the
Indian visa-seekers was visible. The South Asia
Free Media Association, an NGO that had almost
always managed to get Indian visitors over to
Pakistan, was forced to cancel its Punjab -
Punjab gathering because visas to its guests from
India had been refused. This was happening while
the foreign secretaries of Pakistan and India
were smiling broadly into TV cameras in Islamabad
and relaxation of the visa regime between the two
countries was being announced.

This silly business of visa restrictions has been
going on for so long and has caused such great
hardship to countless citizens that one may be
allowed some public time (and space in these
columns) to discuss it.

There is no denying the principle that a visa
cannot be claimed as of right, and that states
are entitled to restrict the grant of visas for a
variety of reasons. Some of the South Asian
states, unfortunately, impose greater
restrictions in this regard on people from within
the region than on others. India and Pakistan in
particular have raised visa-barriers to each
other’s nationals to absurd limits.

The most undesirable people in their eyes are
neither warmongers nor communalist nor sectarian
hate-preachers but journalists and human rights
activists especially if they dare to hold joint
meetings for promoting ideas of regional
cooperation, peace and collaboration against
neo-imperialists. The grant of visas to people in
these categories is usually subject to clearance
by the intelligence agencies.

Yet, hitherto it was possible for organisations
and individuals against whom nothing was on
record to get clearance from the government; that
is, from a prime minister, minister or even from
secretary in a ministry, over the head of the
security apparatus. Now this window on reason is
said to have been closed. The federal ministers
in Pakistan protested in the instant case that
they were under orders to respect the
intelligence agencies’ veto power in matters
relating to visas.

Finally, one-third of the invitees were
sanctioned visas, though many could not avail
themselves of these because of the long delay.
There were then reports of intelligence personnel
making indiscreet inquiries from foreign guests
and warning some of them against opening their
mouths.

Now, the government of Pakistan will not be
blamed for consulting its intelligence outfit,
but it is necessary to lay down a decent,
rational policy. The task of intelligence
agencies is, or should be, to make report to the
government. They are not supposed to take final
decisions on grant of visas, or in any other area
for that matter, because that will mean making
the country into a police state to a greater
extent than is commonly believed. Secondly, no
criterion for selecting 30 or so visa applicants
out of 110 is visible. The exercise appears to be
totally arbitrary, and hence unacceptable.

It is time the dangers of allowing the
intelligence agencies unbridled powers were
realised. A single intelligence department should
have the authority to report on citizens, the
rules of the game should be made public and the
people should be informed of their ’record’ so
that actions against them could be challenged.

* * * * *

The cricket debate will be forgotten after some
time. The disgruntled civil society organisations
cannot offer any immediate threat to an
establishment that has learnt to destroy
political parties and frighten the media into
acquiescence. But the state is unlikely to emerge
unscathed from the crisis a reckless assault on
the judiciary has created. In this case too the
establishment is ignoring the cause of protest
and is using brute force to crush public reaction
to its actions taken arbitrarily and in secrecy.

At this moment it is neither necessary nor
desirable to go into the chargesheet against the
Chief Justice, who was first made
’non-functional’ and is now said to be on ’forced
leave’, as the Supreme Judicial Council has
prohibited such discussion. But the change in
Justice Chaudhry’s status is not sub-judice. What
the law ministry’s crude manipulation means is
that an openly unconstitutional act is sought to
be justified as a step allowed by a law that
empowers the government to send judges on forced
leave. It has been argued that the relevant
measure is not in force, but even if it is
enforceable, its invocation can be struck down on
the ground of arbitrariness.

The administration is obviously following the
stock formula to quell public unrest. It pretends
that a junior functionary could have sent
policemen in uniform to destroy a media centre or
ordered the raining of teargas shells into the
Lahore High Court compound or the beating up of
lawyers and journalists. Regrets are expressed,
compensation is promised and subordinate-level
inquires are ordered. All this is for effect. The
purpose of resort to wanton violence has been
met - the critics and protesters both have been
terrified into submission, at least they have
recognised the virtue of moderation.

Even otherwise all conscious sections of society
have become apprehensive of developments over the
next few weeks. Whatever the decision on the
reference, one organ of the state or another will
have been mortally wounded. The consequences are
bound to be grave.

It requires no great foresight to realise that
the present crisis is the product of arbitrary
and secret governance and if the jolt now
received by the state can pave the way for return
to transparent governance and rule by consensus,
there may be reason to sustain hope.

P.S.

* From Dawn, March 22, 2007. Circulated by South Asia Citizens Wire | March 23, 2007 | Dispatch No. 2381 - Year 9.

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