New Age Islam Edit Bureau
07 April 2016
Surviving Lahoris Did Not Need To Proclaim: Je Suis Lahore
By F.S. Aijazuddin
Riddles and Enigmas: Paradox of Pakistan
By Harlan Ullman
Denial of Fundamental Rights to the People of Gilgit-Baltistan
By Ejaz Karim
Challenges In Pak-Iran Relations
By Saman Zulfqar
When the Law Promotes Slavery
By I.A. Rehman
By Muddassir Rizvi
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Surviving Lahoris Did Not Need To Proclaim: Je Suis Lahore
By F.S. Aijazuddin
April 7th, 2016
SPRING has not shed its bloom, yet its roses have turned the colour of congealed blood. The latest massacre of our innocents took place this time at Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park Lahore on March 27. Over 75 children, their parents and other holiday-goers died. More than 340 were injured. It was a cruelly premature Easter resurrection for the Christians amongst them, and a hellish holiday for their Muslim co-victims.
Surviving Lahoris did not need to proclaim: “Je suis Lahore.” Over centuries, that slogan has been repeated with less grief in the adage ‘Lahore Lahore hai’ (Lahore is Lahore). Lahore did not need to illuminate its Minar-i-Pakistan in mourning colours. That eastern Eiffel tower stood shrouded already in white, which on our national flag symbolises our terrified minorities.
Who, it could be asked, amongst those who lost their lives on that Easter Sunday, secured martyrdom — the suicide bomber or his hapless victims?
A contemporary Oxford historian Peter Frankopan, speaking recently in Lahore, provided an answer. He differentiated between a martyr sacrificing his/her own life in the name of faith, and those who commit suicide as an act of faith, to gain martyrdom, but murder unwary martyrs around them.
Where will the Nadir Shahs now hide their troublesome wealth?
Did that suicide bomber in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park believe that there are discrete heavens, as there are separate graveyards on earth, for Muslim and Christian martyrs? Surely, divinity does not contain discrimination in its DNA.
Whichever heaven those martyrs have gone to, it is certainly not in Panama. That heavenly haven was once thought secure and inviolate. Instead, e-leaks have disclosed reams of secret offshore transactions by luminaries such as Putin, the Bachchans, and the Sharifs. They all assumed that they would take their secrets (if not their money) with them to the grave. Instead, their financial fandango has been exposed. Their fiscal tomfoolery has become known to the public, and probably also to their spouses. The last thing these well-known names expected to see was their laundered money being washed again like dirty linen in public.
Money laundering is not a new phenomenon. Nations have been doing it for centuries. Imperial Athens and Rome, Beijing and Moscow, London and Paris transferred regularly the portable riches of their colonies to swell their treasuries at home. Immoveable assets were kept abroad, in kind.
For example, in the 1880s, King Leopold II effectively owned the Congo Free State. That allowed him to exploit its enormous mineral resources and then divert the proceeds to his personal benefit. Victorian Britain became Great Britain riding astride the elephantine economies of its colonies. Even a minnow country like Holland expanded its lungs breathing in oxygen provided by the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia).
By contrast, the rulers of today prefer to denude their own nations and instead window-dress the economies of foreign ones. One single super-rich Russian oligarch, for example, can prop up London’s property market on his littlest finger, like Krishna did Mt Goverdhan. The post-Gorbachev perestroika of the 1980s made the island economy of Cyprus a sanctuary, to cool red-hot Russian money. Dubai’s property boom soared after Arab oil shifted from beneath the sand and transmuted into skyscrapers built above it.
Now that Panama has destroyed its reputation (who needs a tell-tale bank manager?) and damaged those of its trusting clients, one wonders how newer 21st-century Nadir Shahs will hide their troublesome wealth? Will they solidify it into gold? Each would need a private Fort Knox to safeguard that. In property abroad? As Rockwood Estate once showed, there is always the danger of having to disclose beneficial ownership. Through shell companies? Sea clams are more reticent than Panamanian lawyers. In overpriced jewellery? Not any longer. Even majesties dress like frugal republicans. The maladies of the over-rich are peculiar to their own species. That is why they invent their own antidotes.
Strange as it may seem but plausible in its perversity, perhaps the safest haven for our Muslim magicians is to make their money disappear into Israeli banks. Who would think of searching there? How could NAB — even if it was so inclined — retrieve assets that have been squirreled away in a country we do not even recognise?
Only a myopic optimist or a naïve parliamentarian would believe that money that has been taken out of the country will ever find its way back. Black money has no such homing instincts. Similarly, there is little to be gained from moral finger-wagging and social tut-tutting. Neither will arouse the conscience of either democratically elected kings or of their courtiers. They do not care. As Nietzsche said: “He who cannot give anything away cannot feel anything either.”
Money no longer matters to those slaughtered in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park and in Army Public School, Peshawar. They paid admission fees with their lives. Pakistanis pay every day to admit their filthy rich into Panama.
Riddles and Enigmas: Paradox of Pakistan
By Harlan Ullman
April 07, 2016
As many Pakistanis do not understand American politics, American understanding of Pakistani politics is even more superficial. Aside from media reporting on the Afghan conflict, occasional flare-ups between India and Pakistan, whether over Kashmir or Mumbai-like terror bombings, the horrors of the massacres at the Army Public School in Peshawar in 2014, and the Easter abomination in Lahore targeting Christian children in a playground, Pakistan remains less a mystery and more largely ignored by a wide margin of both American politicians and Americans.
At last week’s nuclear security conference held in Washington, D.C., President Barack Obama did indeed raise the issue of the subcontinent and the nuclear danger potentially posed by the India-Pakistan military standoff. Despite the fact that during the Cold War, the US and the Soviet Union had many tens of thousands of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons pointed at each other, Pakistan’s decision to dramatically increase its shorter-range, tactical warheads as a deterrent to India’s so-called “cold start” strategy to overwhelm Pakistan’s army with a no-notice attack makes little sense to Americans who worry about these matters on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue, and both sides of the Potomac River in Washington.
While this is indeed an important issue, and more follows below, the greatest and most perplexing problem is the broader lack of understanding on the part of Americans and many of its leaders about Pakistan and its past, present and future. Of course, the general absence of American global understanding has haunted its actions often catastrophically, such as the Vietnam War 50 years ago. The conflicts in Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan likewise were plagued by an absence of knowledge along with gross strategic misjudgements often based on ideological beliefs immune to fact and truth.
The history of US-Pakistani relations has been almost entirely shaped by the Cold War, and the later war on terror following the attacks of September 11, 2001. Since the Eisenhower administration, 1953-1961, Pakistan was a pivotal partner from joining alliances (SEATO and METO/Baghdad Pact) against the Soviet Union to allowing U-2 spy planes from using its bases even after Gary Francis Powers was shot down over Siberia in May 1960. The US tolerated Pakistan’s military dictatorships to that end. And when Pakistan’s Yahya Khan foolishly provoked India into a war over East Pakistan that ended in its independence as Bangladesh in 1971, President Richard Nixon famously “titled” towards Islamabad to stop the Indian advance.
After the Cold War ended, Pakistan was largely forgotten although its twice prime minister, Benazir Bhutto, educated at Harvard and Oxford, was highly admired by Americans. In the late 1990s, Pakistan’s decision to test a nuclear weapon led to a chilling of relations in the Clinton administration. All of that changed in the fall of 2001 when Osama bin Laden made al-Qaeda a household name. Famously, the then US Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, was sent to Islamabad to encourage, some say threaten, General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president and army head, to join the alliance against al-Qaeda.
In the 15 years since, the US and Pakistan enjoyed a most uneven relationship that reached rock bottom after the Raymond David case (a CIA officer who shot and killed two Pakistanis surveilling him, and a third innocent Pakistani hit by his car as he fled the scene), and the Abbottabad takedown of bin Laden in 2011. Pakistan repeatedly accused the US of continuously imposing on its sovereignty, whether in aid packages filled with restrictions or in the war on terror and in Afghanistan. The history is well known.
What virtually no American knows is how Pakistan arrived at its current state in which radicalism seems to have embraced most of the country, and why Pakistan’s army and Inter-Services-Intelligence bureau (ISI) seem to act duplicitously in Afghanistan supporting groups such as the Haqqani network and various groups of the Taliban. The fact is that despite a patina of democracy, Pakistan remains a feudal-like state dominated by land owners, and has been ruled by three and a half ‘families’ since its inception: the Bhutto-Zardaris; the Sharifs; the army, which has been the ‘big daddy’; and the Chaudhrys.
After the disastrous and short 1971 war, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto served as both president and prime minister. Educated in the US and England, Bhutto began the transformation of Pakistan’s economy by nationalising much of it. Overthrown in 1977, and executed two years later by General Zia-ul-Haq, who began radicalising the country towards the more extreme sides of Islam. And with the Soviets trapped in Afghanistan beginning in 1980, Zia was, of course, a close US ally. Zia died in a still unsolved incident in 1988 in which his C-130 exploded, also killing the then US Ambassador Arnold Raphel and Defence Attache Brigadier-General Herb Wassom.
Despite the elections of 2008 and President Musharraf’s abdication of power and the peaceful transition of government three years ago from the PPP to Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N, Pakistan remains a country whose future as a functioning democracy is by no means assured. Radicalism is on the rise. The embrace of Mumtaz Qadri as a hero for murdering the then Punjab governor, Salmaan Taseer, who supported a Christian woman accused of blasphemy, and the celebratory march of many thousands from Rawalpindi to Islamabad marking 40 days after Qadri’s execution suggest the reach of radicalism.
Still preoccupied with the threat of India, Pakistan relies on terrorist groups in Kashmir, and building short-range nuclear weapons as means to deter and minimise India’s aspirations. And even with nearly 60,000 of its citizens killed by Islamist terrorists, that fight continues with little end in sight.
In discussions with very senior US leaders, it is startling how little is really understood about Pakistan. So when Pakistanis scratch their heads about American politics, they probably know far more about us, then we do about them.
Harlan Ullman is UPI’s Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist. He is Senior Advisor at the Atlantic Council and at Business Executives for National Security (BENS) and chairs two private companies. His next book is Anatomy of Failure — Why America Loses Every War It Starts
Denial of Fundamental Rights to the People of Gilgit-Baltistan
By Ejaz Karim
By April 07, 2016
Over 70 human rights and political activists have been booked under the Anti-Terrorism Act (ATA), National Action Plan (NAP), and sedition charges in various cases in Gilgit-Baltistan during the last one and half year. At least 20 of them are waiting for justice in various jails of Gilgit-Baltistan, whereas some have been tortured mentally and physically by various Joint Investigation Teams.
“Section 124/A (sedition) of Pakistan Penal Code, ATA and National Action Plan are being frequently used against human rights and political activists as political victimization, and to terrorise the youth of the region,” Israr-ud-din, Coordinator HRCP, Gilgit-Baltistan said.
Human rights abuse is prevalent across Gilgit-Baltistan, and the region has always been treated like a colony by successive central governments of Pakistan. All the laws that are in the interest of Pakistan have been implemented without any delay, but those that are related to fundamental, democratic and human rights of local people are never given any importance. People of Gilgit-Baltistan are deprived of most fundamental human and political rights like, some of which are: freedom of thought, freedom of expression and association, and freedom of assembly.
A political activist known as Baba Jan and two others are in jail since August 2011. Over 50 people were arrested after a protest demonstration took place in Aliabad Hunza against the killing of a father and son by police in 2011. These protesters were demanding compensation for the victims of the Attabad Lake catastrophe. The Anti Terrorism Court, Gilgit-Baltistan awarded life imprisonment to Comrade Baba Jan, Iftiqar Hussain and Shukurullah Baig. The only crime they committed was to rise up against police brutality after the killing of two innocent people by the local police. Similarly, Tahir Ali, a nationalist leader, was arrested for delivering a speech during the election campaign of the Gilgit-Baltistan Legislative Assembly, and was booked under sedition and 6/7 of the ATA.
Likewise, on October 14, 2014, a First Information Report was registered against nine human rights and political activists who were protesting against the political victimisation of the progressive leader, Baba Jan, and 11 other political workers of Hunza in front of the Gilgit camp office of the United Nations Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan. Another FIR was registered against 19 local political and human rights activists under sedition charges in a Gilgit police station on delivering a speech on the issue of Gilgit-Baltistan and Kashmir in a seminar. Moreover, several leaders of the Awami Action Committee, Gilgit-Baltistan has been booked under sedition and terrorist charges, and locked up in jails across the region time and again.
Ashfaq Advocate said, “Courts in Gilgit-Baltistan are established under the Legal Frame Work 1994. Since the courts are not protected by a constitution, the judiciary remains subordinate to bureaucracy.” He maintained, “Unfortunately, the NAP and ATA are being used against political activists frequently in Gilgit-Baltistan.”
The chief court of Gilgit-Baltistan deliberately adjourns cases of political prisoners for final hearing, and this delay is based on nothing but political reasons. The court turned down the hearing of Baba Jan, Iftiqar and Shukurullah Baig due seven times, reportedly under the influence of military and bureaucracy over the judiciary.
Baba Jan said, “I am being pressurised to surrender and compromise but I will not. My 75-year-old father was arrested under the ATA in a bogus case to pressurise me last year, and I was asked to withdraw from the Awami Action Committee movement for subsidy and other rights, which I was leading from Hunza Nagar.”
Political and human rights activists are considered an asset of a progressive society and freedom of speech, right of peaceful protest and right to information are non-negotiable aspects of a democratic society. Unfortunately, many leading political and human rights activists are booked under the ATA, NAP and sedition charges for raising the issue of rights in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, and subsidy on basic necessities of life. Dissident writers and journalists are being threatened; local newspapers covering news of rights of people are being banned. Another dilemma is that there is a complete blackout of the issues — like human rights abuses, corruption, unemployment, poverty and flaws of governance — of Gilgit-Baltistan, thus making them invisible to the mainstream media of Pakistan. Not a single bureau of any TV channel or national newspaper, English or Urdu, is located in the whole of Gilgit-Baltistan. In the era of media, a region being ignored in mainstream media is worsening the plight of the people, creating a sense of alienation and marginalisation among people of Gilgit-Baltistan.
Ejaz Karim is Daily Times correspondent for Gilgit-Baltistan
Challenges in Pak-Iran Relations
By Saman Zulfqar
April 07, 2016
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani visited Pakistan on March 25, 2016, his first ever visit in four years. Earlier, the then president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visited Islamabad in February 2012 for a trilateral summit with Afghani and Pakistani leaders. President Rouhani’s visit is part of the Iranian government’s international outreach for renewing ties with its traditional trading allies and partners after the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (P5+1 nuclear deal) came into effect, providing for lifting of the nuclear-related sanctions.
Addressing Pakistan-Iran Joint Business Forum, Rouhani pledged to take trade-volume between the two states to five billion dollars in the next five years. The current volume of bilateral trade does not reflect the enormous potential that exists between the two states. A look at trade and energy related cooperation between Pakistan and Iran shows that bilateral trade peaked at $1.3 billion in 2008-09, but later on declined to $893 million. Though leaders from both countries had expressed their resolve to increase bilateral trade to five billion dollars during the 2014 visit of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to Iran.
The main reasons for low trade-volume has been high non-tariff barriers in Iran; high custom duty on items in which Pakistan has comparative advantage such as textile; slow process of import approvals; lack of enabling infrastructure that could facilitate trade on Pakistan’s side; poor rail, road and air connectivity between the two countries and lack of land-border trade posts. During the 7th Pakistan-Iran Joint Trade Committee meeting, Pakistan’s commerce minister expressed concern over unilateral import bans, high textile tariffs and import authorisation system, calling for elimination of non-tariff barriers under the 2006 Preferential Trade Agreement. In this regard, both sides agreed to form working groups to discuss the widening of Preferential Trade Agreement of 2006 to enhance connectivity and to open new border trade posts at Mand-Pishin and Gabd-Reemdan.
Due to broad range sanctions against Iran in the context of nuclear programme, banking channel with Iran was suspended, and Pakistani banks were reluctant to do business with Iran. It was reported a month ago that the reestablishment of banking channels between Pakistan and Iran did not mean setting up branches of Pakistani banks in Iran, but it meant restarting banking transactions between Pakistan and Iran by renewal of correspondent banking — relationship among commercial banks on both sides for settlement of transactions.
As regards the energy trade, Iranian president said that Iran considered provision of Pakistan’s energy security (in the area of electricity and gas) its responsibility. He further said that Iran had constructed its part of gas pipeline and would be able to provide gas in a few months when Pakistan would complete construction of its side of pipeline. Iran is already supplying 1,000 MW of electricity to Pakistan, while it intends to increase it to 3,000 MW. Iranian president also showed interest in enhancing connectivity between Gwadar and Chabahar port through roads, railways and shipping lines; he also desired to extend these connectivity projects to China.
In addition to trade and connectivity issues, leaders of Pakistan and Iran discussed strategic issues regarding regional peace and stability. The Afghan reconciliation process and holding of trilateral talks among Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran was also supported by the Iranian side. Regarding the Middle Eastern situation, Iranian president said that the use of military force in resolution of conflict is not a viable option.
Trade and economic cooperation in Pakistan-Iran bilateral relations can be enhanced when mutual concerns are addressed. Apart from trade-related hindrances, strategic issues such as Iran’s role in the region, particularly its relations with India and Afghanistan, has also been a cause of concern for Pakistan. As per reports, during a meeting between President Rouhani and Chief of Army Staff Raheel Sharif the issue of alleged Indian involvement in Balochistan was also discussed. The allged Indian involvement in Pakistan, particularly in Balochistan, has been a cause of concern for Pakistan and, in this regard, Indian presence in Iran for the infrastructure development for Iran-Afghanistan-India joint projects also matters. The long-term and sustainable cooperation between Pakistan and Iran can be achieved by addressing mutual concerns regarding trade and economic policies as well as strategic issues that eventually define the relationship among states.
Saman Zulfqar works at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute (IPRI)
When the Law Promotes Slavery
By I.A. Rehman
April 7th, 2016
THE Punjab bill on the prohibition of child labour in brick kilns is a double-edged weapon. Ostensibly, the bill is designed to end the evil of child labour in a fairly large sector, but it also aims to revive the curse of peshgi (an advance against wages), and thus legitimises bonded labour.
The bill provides for regulation of employment in brick kilns through a written contract (an appointment letter) between the worker and the employer, containing the terms of employment and the wages that have been promised. In a country where owners of brick kilns have stubbornly resisted the registration of their trade, and rarely disclosed the exact number of employees working for them, a new contract system can only be welcomed.
But other than this progressive step, the bill has an utterly retrogressive provision. The contract will include the amount of peshgi taken by the worker and the payback schedule. The way that peshgi registers are maintained, and debt arbitrarily inflated, is well known. Who will guarantee that employers do not include huge amounts of peshgis into their contracts?
The bill allows employers to give peshgi to workers, and also fixes a limit on the advance amount — equal to six times a worker’s wages for one wage period. It has been argued that the peshgi amount can go up to six figures. Besides difficulties in eliminating the exploitation of workers through account tampering, the provision destroys the foundation of the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act, and the historic Supreme Court decision in 1988 which discontinued peshgi. On the basis of this verdict the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act of 1992 declared: “No person shall make any advance under, or in pursuance of the bonded labour system, or compel any person to render any bonded labour or other form of forced labour.”
The Punjab bill banning child labour in brick kilns is retrogressive in many ways.
The Supreme Court struck down Peshgi after thorough research by experts and leading lawyers. The court had also based its verdict on an understanding between the petitioners (bonded workers) and employers.
Throughout the two decades in which the Bonded Labour System (Abolition) Act has been on the statute books (although it has never been sincerely enforced), employers have tried to subvert it through a variety of stratagems. The act has survived a challenge in the Shariat Court, and another in the Sindh High Court. It was also once denounced as a measure aimed at ruining Sindh’s agricultural economy. That this law — which overrides all other laws — would be undone under the cloak of curbing child labour, cannot be expected from any government that has the slightest respect for workers’ rights and their dignity.
It is a sad turn of events for bonded workers that Punjab has decided to legalise a slavery-like practice in utter violation of the Constitution (Article 11).
Concerning the part of the bill related to child labour, there are no two opinions on the employment of children in brick kilns; it is one of the worst forms of exploitation. These children are obliged to start work at a very tender age, sometimes as young as four years. The long hours of work, mostly under a blazing sun, adversely affect their physical and mental growth. The environment in which such children see many people (including their parents) — subjected to violence, deceit and all kinds of humiliation — destroys all possibility of their development into normal adults, and cultivating values of personal freedoms and dignity.
Thus, the initiative to eliminate child labour in brick kilns deserves to be supported — it is sound in principle. However, the success of the project will obviously depend less on the nature of the scheme, and more on the strategy of its implementation.
Has the government taken note of the following two factors that are likely to impede implementation of the project? First, how will parents be persuaded to forego their children’s contributions to family earnings, or be compensated for the shortfall caused by their children’s withdrawal from family labour?
Secondly, children will continue to live near brick kilns and remain exposed to these corrupt and exploitative environments, with little protection against employment after school hours. Since the exploitation of child and adult workers is inextricably linked with their dependence for housing provided by employers, a long-term policy to meet the housing needs of brick kiln workers has to be integral to any plan to end exploitation in this sector.
The bill bars the employment of children in brick kilns. If a child above the age of five is found at a brick kiln during school timings he shall be “deemed to have been employed, engaged or permitted to work at the brick kiln”. Violations are punishable with sealing of the brick kiln, simple imprisonment for seven days to six months, and a fine of Rs50,000 to Rs500,000. A key role has been assigned to the inspector, who will monitor implementation of the law, and on whose report all prosecutions will begin.
Under the proposed law ‘child’ means a “person who has not completed the fourteenth year of age”. This is contrary to global trends of raising the child age limit to eighteen, in keeping with the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Besides, an employer is referred to as ‘occupier’ in the bill, which makes no sense at all. Since the law deals with the employment of labour, the word ‘occupier’ should be replaced with ‘employer’. Whether the proposed law ensures that all children relieved of labour in brick kilns will in fact attend school is another challenge.
The best thing that the Punjab government can do is to restrict the bill to child labour, drop the effort to restore Peshgi, and rewrite the scheme for contracts between workers and brick kiln owners.
By Muddassir Rizvi
April 7th, 2016
Do we have a government of the people, by the people, for the people? No. It is of the rich, by the poor, for the rich. The poor are a vehicle to vote in the rich through ‘democratic elections’. The arrangement suits the state establishment that requires a dispensation with democratic credentials to manage political institutions. Its past adventures in directly managing political institutions have led to public dissonance.
The use of money and the role of the moneyed in elections and politics have increased to an extent that the less endowed stand almost no chance of contesting, let alone winning, an election. The kind of money that has crept into politics is evident from the declarations of assets and liabilities that parliamentarians have to submit to the Election Commission every year.
The cumulative value of assets declared by 894 esteemed members for 2013-14 amounts to Rs86.56 billion, which includes Rs47.23bn of immoveable and Rs35.85bn of moveable assets in Pakistan and Rs3.46bn of immoveable assets outside the country. The average value of assets for a member comes to Rs96.92 million. Strangely, the elected representatives are not legally required to declare their annual income and taxes they have paid, though they submit it once at the time of nomination for elections.
This data is not exhaustive. While the gazette for 2014-15 has yet to be published, the one issued for 2013-2014 includes declarations of the assets and liabilities of 277 out of 342 members of the National Assembly, 104 members of the Senate, 25 of 124 members of the KP Assembly, 251 of 371 members of the Punjab Assembly, and all members of the Sindh and Balochistan legislatures. The value of total assets will only increase if the data for 180 MPAs is included. The average value of assets may, however, fluctuate. The value of assets in these declarations is based on self-estimates by members. The actual value may be far more than what is declared.
The kind of money that has crept into politics is evident from the parliamentarians’ declarations of assets and liabilities
Of 894 members whose assets were available, only 227 had assets valuing less than Rs10m, 452 between Rs10m and Rs100m, 207 between Rs100m and Rs1,000m and eight more than Rs1,000m. The total value of assets of members in the National Assembly is Rs35.91bn, the Senate Rs16.41bn, Punjab Assembly Rs19.98bn, Sindh Rs11.43bn, KP Rs210.41m (of 25 out of 99 members) and Balochistan Rs2.59bn.
A party-wise analysis of the value of assets only strengthens the argument that the rich and mighty are the best choices for most political parties. The cumulative value of assets held by 458 members of the national and provincial assemblies belonging to the PML-N whose declarations were available comes to Rs48.19bn, 164 members of PPP to Rs17.55bn, 67 members of PTI to Rs5.89bn, 50 members of MQM to Rs1.41bn, 13 members of PML-F to Rs1.83bn, 15 members of ANP to Rs1.07bn, 28 members of JUI-F to Rs597.34m, 19 members of PkMAP to Rs320.33m, 15 members of NP to Rs370.44m and so on. The 22 independents in the national and provincial assemblies whose declarations were available hold assets amounting to a whopping Rs3.31bn. However, there are exceptions. For instance, there are 29 members of national and provincial assemblies belonging to all major parties whose assets are less than a million rupees.
The point is not to raise concern about the hard-earned, inherited or gifted assets of members; it is to show that the minority moneyed class is representing a majority whose average monthly income, according to the government’s Household Integrated Economic Survey conducted in 2013-14, is Rs30,999. The survey has examined key distributions across five standardised per capita consumption quintiles, each containing 20pc of the population. The first quintile contains the poorest 20pc and the fifth the richest. The average monthly income of people in the first quintile is Rs16,583, the second Rs20,436, the third Rs24,188, the fourth Rs29,255 and the last Rs53,001. Clearly, a majority of members of the elected houses are not in sync with the needs of the poverty-strewn citizenry.
Election is essential but not sufficient for democracy. The quality of representation is at the heart of democratic culture and institutions. The assets analysis only establishes that the electoral system is not ensuring genuine representation. The elected houses should not only be representative of the ethnic, geographic and religious diversities but also of the income classes.
Unfortunately, the framers of the Constitution prescribed reserved seats for peasants, workers and women, who together form the majority of the population, and that too in local government institutions. Ironic indeed but affirmative action was recommended for the majority income class when in fact it should be for the minority income class — the rich.
Incisive reforms are needed to enhance representation of the majority who belong to low and middle income groups. The issue can be dealt with through radical political reforms by making it mandatory for political parties to give tickets to people with limits on maximum annual income and assets, including 50pc tickets to women and 10pc to non-Muslim minorities. Some reserved seats may be allocated for the rich; otherwise they can be allowed to contest for Senate through direct election on a proportional representation basis with the province as the constituency. The proponents of democracy who are in power always hide behind constitutional rights and entitlements to defend the case of the rich and the mighty and not the poor and the downtrodden.
Unless electoral and political reforms are radical, the citizenry will continue to wait for mega investments in education, health, clean water, housing, farm-to-market roads, agriculture, workers, the welfare system for women, farmers, labourers, pensioners, the aged, minorities and the disabled.
Muddassir Rizvi works with the Free and Fair Election Network.