Tag Archives: democracy

Only those committed to Pakistan should lead it

20 Apr

According to the News today:

NA bill to hit MPs with dual nationality

ISLAMABAD: The Pakistan Muslim League-Q on Tuesday introduced a bill in the National Assembly that seeks the disqualification of parliamentarians and members of the federal and provincial government who hold dual nationality and own foreign accounts and property. The bill also applies to the armed forces and judiciary.

The private member’s bill, moved by PML-Q parliamentarian, Raza Hayat Hiraj, was not opposed by the Pakistan People’s Party chief whip and Federal Minister, Syed Khurshid Shah, and was referred to the concerned standing committee of the House. Shah claimed no PPP leader had dual nationality or foreign accounts and property.

The bill applies to all individuals who maintain an account in their own name or in the name of spouses, children or dependents. It also applies to those who hold a dual nationality or have permanent resident status of any other country, whether in their own name or in the name of spouses, children or dependents. The bill applies if an individual holds an office of profit or interest in any company or organisation established in a foreign country. It applies to any individual who owns any property whether free hold, lease hold or even in the form of licence, assets or shares or any interest in any company based in a foreign country, whether in his own name or in the name of his spouse, children or dependents, and if he/she carries out business, including any commercial activity, in any organisation or establishment based in a foreign country, whether in his own name or in the name of his spouse, children or dependents.

I picked up this issue about a year back and wrote the following about it. I am glad to see that legislation is being moved to make this happen. Have not read the proposed legislation in this regard so cannot comment on it but this seems like a move in the right direction. Here is the article I wrote on it about a year back:

The Citizenship of the Leadership

In order to become a member of parliament in Pakistan, one needs (or rather needed) a bachelor’s degree (this could be real or fake – according to the chief minister of Balochistan, there is no difference), lots of money, political connections, dubious morals and the right surname.

One can either be born into such good fortune or marry into it. Post the accident of birth or arrangement of fortunate marriage the path to political power is fairly straight and we have been hounded by the specters of dynastic and incompetent politics since Independence. So I began to wonder, if the constitution had any safeguards to prevent us from such inept leadership.

A quick study of the document revealed that there is a whole list of conditions under which a person is rendered ineligible to run for political office. The conditions range from corruption to insanity. Interestingly, the one condition that the document is vague on is the issue of citizenship, particularly dual citizenship. According to the constitution, one can be disqualified from being elected to parliament if, “he ceases to be a citizen of Pakistan, or acquires the citizenship of a foreign state …”

I’m not a constitutional lawyer or a lawyer at all – but even to my untrained eyes, this language seems vague. So while we require political leadership to be sane and moral we don’t require them to be only Pakistani? Pakistan allows its citizens to hold dual nationalities so why deny politicians this legal right? Continue reading

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Confused

9 Mar

On my way to work today, I saw a somewhat discreet advertisement for a new cafe-cum-art gallery-cum-designer clothes store in Islamabad. This is not the first of its kind. It might be the first to combine all three under the same roof but we have plenty of other establishments of the same ilk. Swanky eating spots, exclusive clothes boutiques and high-brow art galleries showcasing some heftily priced artwork – seem to be sprouting up with alarming speed and frequency in a country that by all accounts and estimates is headed for an apocalyptic social and economic meltdown along with a revolution led by self-serving bigots parading as men of God.

I’m confused.

Countries about to explode or implode (take your pick) shouldn’t be busy trying to provide goods that are unaffordable and potentially capable of being declared illegal in the near (shaped by a revolution led by bigots) future.

So are these entrepreneurs completely clueless or callous or both? Or are we all just kidding about impending doom? Continue reading

VIP vs VIP

9 Nov

In Pakistan, your importance is measured by the number of people who have to wait for you and the amount of time that they have to spend waiting for you. Small time bureaucrats make a handful of people wait for atleast a few hours before granting an audience. The really important people will make entire cities come to a stand still as their entourage zips around town. But given the large number of “important” people in Pakistan, the unimportant average citizen is quite accustomed to such treatment. But when one important citizen happens to stop another important citizen wait – that is when the news sparks fly and the inconvenience and discourteous behavior extended to all citizens on a regular basis – gets noticed.

A federal minister, travelling in an official vehicle that was flying the national flag was stopped at gunpoint and made to wait for a four star general to pass. In a country where power is determined by who waits for you and how long, the incident makes it amply clear that the boys in khaki are more important than the boys in parliament. In Pakistan, it’s not about how many votes you have but how many troops you command. Despite our democratic aspirations, we remain a country dominated by the security sector that lets the people amuse its self with a round at choose your next leader every few years while simultaneously ensuring that power continues to flow from the barrels of guns and not ballots. Continue reading

Yearning for Change

20 Feb

Published in The News: Saturday, February 20, 2010

I am every bit of the middle-class Pakistani that Ayaz Amir describes with so much disdain in his article ‘The (misdirected) yearning for change’ (February 12). I live in a nice part of a town, I went to an English medium school, my mode of transportation is a car, I converse in English and I discuss politics with great enthusiasm in my drawing room. And my political activism is unfortunately limited to the drawing room only because there is no space for the likes of me or other middle-class Pakistanis in mainstream politics.

In his furious criticism of the middle class, Mr Amir forgets that it isn’t enthusiasm or willingness that’s missing on the part of the middle class; it is the lack of an influential surname and bank balance. History is testament to the fact that it is not honesty, integrity, skill, patriotism or commitment to public well being that will earn you a place in the political process of Pakistan. Instead, the pre-requisites for political participation are the ability to either coerce or bribe voters into submission. Political parties give tickets to those candidates only who bring with them either power of the purse or power of the punch. I would like to ask Mr Amir how, in the absence of correct lineage and appropriate financial assets, I should participate in the political process?

Political parties in Pakistan have done nothing to encourage young middle-class Pakistanis to join their ranks. There is no process through which young middle class people can get involved in mainstream politics and make a career out of it. None of the political parties have a commitment to nurturing future political leadership. There is a tacit agreement amongst all in power to further propagate their own control by renaming their progeny to the thrones of political power. The leader of the PPP will always be a Bhutto and that of the PML-N will always be a Sharif. And those that will stand by them will be Makhdums, Maliks, Chaudhrys, Bizenjos, Bugtis, Marris, Khars or Khuros. There is no place for just a plain citizen of Pakistan, Sehar Tariq.

I have educational degrees from very fine academic institutions. I have a passion for politics and a deep-rooted sense of patriotism. I also have training in the development, implementation and assessment of public policy. But I don’t think those qualities rank high on the recruitment criteria of any mainstream political party.

So, where should I take all that I have to say based on what I have learnt and based on where I would like to see my country go? “Why don’t you join the youth wing or the [insert political party name] Students Federation,” you might say. Surely, student politics is a good way for young middle-class Pakistanis to become involved in the political process. It is. However, student politics – sponsored and nurtured by the democratic forces that you urge us to join – is merely an extension of the coercive power of these political parties. Student politics in Pakistan is characterised by wielding hockey sticks, calling for strikes, intimidating students and professors and creating roadblocks or filling in seats at rallies when needed. And my skills with a hockey stick are sub-par.

I can write great policy papers. I often get A grades on them. But our student political groups don’t require policy nerds. Political parties neither leverage nor encourage youth wings to participate in policy making because it would take them away from disrupting the academic peace and diminish their powers of intimidation. In countries where political parties are truly interested in nurturing new leadership, student leaders are encouraged to write, think and present on key policy issues. Youth wings serve as engines for new and fresh thinking on old and pressing problems. But our political recipe for success involves minimising thought and maximising personal profit. This leaves little room for the academically inclined or the violently disinclined middle classes to participate.

The only form of participation open to us is discussion, which, due to the restrictive patterns of Pakistani politics, we cannot take to the National Assembly. So we sit in our drawing rooms or write on our shiny laptops and publish in English dailies – our armchair activism – our visions of where we want our country to go. But before you write us off, think of it this way, given that the salaried middle classes are the single biggest taxpaying group in the country – our money funds your salary. You participate in the political process on the back of our hard-earned rupees. And since it is our money you spend while you take decisions in the “national interest” and “participate in the political process”, at least give us the right to comment on and complain about those decisions since you have denied us the space to participate in making them.

The writer is a student at Princeton University. Email: stariq@princeton.edu

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