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DAWN Editorials – 21th March 2016

Hand-to-mouth’ MNAs

It is our turn to put our hands to our mouth — in disbelief. The members of the National Assembly say they are forced to live on an — almost — shoestring budget.

In a session reported in this paper on Friday, they pointed out the few peanuts they are given for the exalted job they are expected to do.

As one member came up with an impromptu breakdown of the various heads under which he had to pay every month it became abundantly clear that his was not the best career option out there. Clearly, professionals in other walks have been comparatively better at establishing their worth.

In bringing up the issue, an old rule was broken. The principle was that while workers were always within their rights to ask for higher wages, it did not become them to question what a fellow worker was being paid.

Examine: Minister ‘helpless’ to ensure NA attendance

During this debate about an upward revision of MNAs’ salaries, attention was drawn to the higher pays given to members of the provincial assemblies — with special mention of the riches being made by those sitting in the privileged Balochistan Assembly.

The speaker of the National Assembly, who sounded quite sympathetic to the cause of the members of the house, was quoted as questioning the gap between the salaries of the MNAs and MPAs. But perhaps, for the satisfaction of his own colleagues he needed to be specific that when he talked about bringing the salaries of the provincial and national lawmakers at par with each other, he wasn’t talking, God forbid, about rationalising the MPAs’ pay, bringing it down to the level of that of the MNAs.

Nor should anyone use the debate to nurse notions that the MPAs were in any way inferior to those sitting in the national parliament. The best answer will be to pay the lawmakers according to the market and then keep a close eye on them to ensure that they are performing and are not taking undue advantage of their position.

CPEC and water

THE warning from the governor of Balochistan regarding the risks that the depleting water resources of his province pose to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor needs to be taken seriously.

It has been many decades now that Balochistan’s water table has been falling, and some of the numbers reported recently on the gap between water requirements and availability for the provincial capital of Quetta are truly alarming.

One project — Mangi dam — is in its earliest stages of development; it is supposed to help plug less than half of this reported gap, but outside of Quetta city, the problem of falling groundwater tables afflicts all regions to the point where tube wells have become a large cottage industry, numbering as many as 15,000 in the province according to some estimates given by officials from the provincial power distribution company. Tube wells also account for the bulk of unpaid dues of the power utility.

In every way, the depletion of freshwater resources in the province, in the face of a growing population, is a disaster in slow motion in Balochistan, to the point where the influx of migrants to Quetta is now often ascribed to people moving on account of the depleted water reserves in their home district.

Much of the province’s irrigated agriculture relies on tube wells which have seen runaway growth since the late 1980s.

Today, the problem of groundwater pumping and falling water tables has become so acute that the subsidies provided on electricity for tube wells is reportedly larger than the cost of building the dam and its water conveyance system for Quetta.

Almost half the livelihoods in the province are dependent on agriculture according to World Bank estimates, and water depletion in irrigated areas will increase the threat to the sustainability of these livelihoods in the years to come.

The water crisis in Balochistan is widespread, it is real and it is growing. In the midst of this reality, the government sounds a little disconnected when it touts the roads, power plants and industrial estates as the prime benefits that the province of Balochistan will derive from the bouquet of CPEC projects.

Was enhancing water capacity in the province, whether through increasing storage or superior utilisation techniques, even considered a possible benefit to tap for the province when the menu of CPEC projects was decided upon? Going by the governor’s warning, the answer appears to be in the negative.

Perception of democracy

CHIEF Justice of Pakistan Anwar Zaheer Jamali appears to be growing into his job as the senior-most judge in the country. That entails developing a judicial philosophy that implements the letter of the Constitution and, for now, encouraging democratic institutional development.

On that crucial latter issue, Chief Justice Jamali has indicated a deeper understanding of what has ailed Pakistan over the decades.

Speaking at a tribute to the late Hafeez Pirzada, one of the architects of the 1973 Constitution, Chief Justice Jamali suggested that the frequent impositions of martial law had left a majority of the population unaware of the spirit of democracy and that has contributed to lawlessness in the country.

In a week in which retired Gen Pervez Musharraf left the country perhaps never to return, Chief Justice Jamali’s comments are particularly poignant. While electoral democracy is becoming the new norm in the country, is the country really moving towards full-fledged democracy and rule of law?

Perhaps it is worth reflecting on the past that Chief Justice Jamali referred to. The several impositions of martial law — under Mr Musharraf the nomenclature was changed, but the impact was the same — did not just interrupt democracy, it made democracy seem optional.

The damage caused by the perception that democracy is optional, that if the system is not producing desirable results in the short term it ought to be replaced by something else, has proved more long-lasting than the dictatorships themselves.

Its effects can be seen everywhere. In Karachi, an operation that began with the narrow purpose of fighting crime and militancy has morphed into an attack on the political structure of the nation’s most populous city.

The denizens of Karachi want peace and their party of choice, but peace and democracy are being offered as mutually exclusive options.

At the centre, eight years into a seemingly strong transition to democracy, the sharing of power between the military and the civilians is tilting in the wrong direction. In Fata, the military has absolute control.

Balochistan is effectively one big no-go area. While the reasons vary, everywhere the effect is the same: democracy may be desired, but it is seen as optional — by elements of the state and sometimes by the people themselves.

Changing that will require not just time, but purposeful effort by democratic elements. An obvious path from the lawlessness that Chief Justice Jamali identified to lawfulness would be fundamental reforms in the delivery of justice.

A civilian-led effort — a joint effort by elected representatives and the judiciary — to reform a broken judicial system would have far-reaching effects.

At its core, Pakistan’s problem remains one of the rule of law — justice for all, equally, timely and in a transparent manner.

The rules must be fair, but they must be clear — and justice certain. That would foster the public’s belief in the fundamentality of democracy and circumscribe the actions of state institutions.

The country’s elected representatives have made a great deal of progress by internalising the need for democratic continuity and accepting the electorate’s verdict. But a true national spirit of democracy will only come with the rule of law.

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