The dictators' survival manual

By Manzoor Chandio
Published in Dawn, June 21, 2015 

King James II might not have imagined that the municipal system he had exported to India in 1687 for handling civic issues such as cleanliness, water supply and sanitation would be used four centuries later by Pakistani dictators seeking legitimacy and popular support.
Through a royal charter issued on Dec 30, 1687, the King had established the Corporation of Madras as the first municipal body. Members of this body used to be selected by the East India Company while the mayor was elected by the members. The municipal corporations of Calcutta and Bombay were formed in 1726, while the system of elected municipal institutions came into being in 1882. By 1935, hundreds of local body institutions were added across India.
While the municipal bodies were not democratic in nature, they were nonetheless aimed at handling civic issues. The basic functions of the local body system throughout the British era remained water supply, sewerage, sanitation, street lights, recreation, building regulations, controlling encroachment on public places, birth and marriage registrations, and issuance of death certificates.
After Partition, India improved the system, conducted regular elections and used the local body institutions to resolve basic everyday issues of the citizens. But in Pakistan, as with many other institutions established during the colonial period, local municipal bodies did not see any continuity after Partition. The local body system was effectively abandoned.
Worse, while local body systems in other parts of the world have served as a basis for grassroots governance, in Pakistan it has historically been used to reinforce power hierarchies and create perceptions of empowerment.
Ayub Khan`s Basic Democracy The first `new` local body system was created by General Muhammad Ayub Khan under the Basic Democracies Order1959. He was of the view that democracy was as alien a concept to the Pakistani masses as the English language, and thus, it needed to start from a very basic level.In fact, this line of thought was first introduced by Iskandar Mirza, who believed that `overwhelmingly illiterate masses were bound to act foolishly. Having no training in democracy, they could not run democratic institutions, but needed a controlled democracy.
Thus began the concept of experimenting with democracy, which later on became a readymade mantra for successive dictators.
Gen Ayub Khan introduced four tiers of local governance: union, taluka, district and divisional councils. Elected union councillors (80,000) were the `basic democrats` in this system; they were to elect the president, members of the National Assembly, as well as members of the provincial assemblies (East and West wings). The rest of the country had no right to direct voting.
Ayub Khan ensured that no opponent of his was elected as a basic democrat. A number of politicians were disqualified under the Elective Bodies Disqualification Order (EBDO).
Going apolitical with Zia The local body system remained inactive till 1979, when it was revived by General Ziaul Haq, again in a quest for legitimacy. Local body elections held by his regime empowered those traditional political families who had switched loyalties and pledged support for the regime.
As with Gen Ayub before him, the Zia government disqualified all candidates who were thought to be opposition loyalists (in this case the PPP) or even sympathisers. To achieve this task, Gen Zia set up a parallel election authority for conducting local body elections, called the Local Government Election Authority (LGEA). Headed by pro-re-gime judges and run by pliant officials, this body superseded the Election Commission of Pakistan.
Devolution of power with Musharraf Upon assuming power, General Pervez Musharraf unveiled a seven-point agenda to `fix` the country. A key component of his scheme was the devolution of power to the local level, but in doing so, the General bypassed the federating unitswho are the de jure creators of the federation.
Critical to Musharraf`s plan was the creation of a coterie of loyalists at the local level. The new system was to produce a large number of councillors, nazims and naib nazims, all of whom were only effectively answerable to the General.
Accountability now rested not with people`s representatives, but with the General`s person; district governments were given immense powers to the extent that they could defy provincial governments.
The local body system was so important for Gen Musharraf that he visited 18 districts in the country`s four provinces to create his clique of loyalists. The general pledged unprecedented powers to local body institutions and he was true to his word: district administrations not only enjoyed more fiscal autonomy, but even subjects that constitutionally fell under provincial domains at the time education and revenue, for example were handed to the districts.
In the 2001 local body polls, most candidates went unopposed because the General`s opponents were discouraged from filing nomination papers for the polls; there were 20,076 councillors` seats in 18 districts and about 2,041 seats were uncontested. As a result, 3,937 candidates won unopposed.
There were 5,734 seats for women and no one contested the election for 3,106 seats; some 1,710 women were elected unopposed. While Musharraf`s team argued that they actually wanted to empower women, labourers and peasants, in reality, 48pc of women`s seats remained uncontested in 2001 while 65.48pc of labour seats remained vacant.
The 2001 local body polls were held in an extremelyrestrictive atmosphere. In an attempt to bring only loyalists to power, the military government placed a ban on normal electoral activities. Candidates were given only 10 days for electioneering. No corner meetings were allowed, displaying banners and pasting wall posters were barred too. Even the use of loudspeakers was banned. It was not possible for candidates to go door-to-door for seeking votes.
Only handbills were allowed to be circulated among masses in a country with 60-70pc illiterate people. The voting process was so confusing that in some constituencies, the majority of votes cast were cancelled or rejected.
Another dynamic to emerge from the 2001 elections was that 90pc of the nazims, naib nazims and councillors came from traditional powerful political families. In practice, Gen Musharraf`s local government system had created fiefdoms for local landlords and influential people. Several district assemblies came into being, and money was doled out directly. Many misappropriated and misused funds, but there was no auditing and monitoring system to keep any checks on this.
Delaying democracy? There is an American aphorism which says `bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don`t vote`.
If we change this in the Pakistani context, it should read: `Bad politicians are sent to Islamabad by good people who manoeuvre votes.` The local body systems introduced by various dictators withered away as soon as these men were dislodged from power.
No one can deny the importance of the local body system because it is a tier of the government through which the dayto-day problems of the people relating to water supply, street light and cleanliness, maintenance of recreational places, issuing birth, marriage and death certificates, etc. can be solved at the local level.
But the local body systems introduced by military regimes were flawed and self-serving. They not only created political crises but also delayed the natural growth of this very impor-tant tier of the government. The biggest drawback of the systems introduced by Gen Ayub Khan, Gen Ziaul Haq and Gen Pervez Musharraf was that power never trickled down to the people because the military regimes wanted a unitary system of governance at the national level.
Ayub Khan hinged on the idea of `basic democracy`, Zia spearheaded an apolitical local body system and Musharraf harped on `devolution of power` to a grassroots level. Ayub, Zia and Musharraf`s local body systems brought new loyalists, proxies and protégés of old established parties but by and large excluded the masses from the political process and administrative affairs. The so-called third tier of the government that the military rulers introduced headed for disastrous consequences because of this self-centric approach of the dictators.
All dictators tweaked the system as per the needs of their time. Their survival was tied to excluding the common man from governance and decision making, even though the illusion created by all dictators was that they were now including the common man in the processes of governance. Thus they used the local body electoral landscape to forestall the entry of protagonists to the power corridors.
The concentration of power at the higher echelons of the government led to authoritarianism that also suited the traditional ruling class. The entire political discourse was lost in a maze of structural problems because of absence of the primary tier of the government.
Past experiences in local governance have also taught us that there is a strong need to improve the relationship between provincial governments and local body institutions.
The military rulers` love for over-centralisation undermined the federating units. The military rulers gave provincial powers to the local administrations and local powers to the provincial governments. During the earlier phases, there were no clear spheres of administration because the local body systems imposed by the military rulers infringed on provincial powers.
For example, during the Musharraf regime, municipal administrations were given funds to initiate mega projects like expressways, flyovers and underpasses while the provincial governments were slammed for not providing funds for garbage collection, maintenance of public recreation facilities and urban planning. Meanwhile, the city administrations absolved themselves of their responsibilities and demanded provision of more funds instead of enhancing capacity to cope with rain-related and fire emergencies.
There is a need for clear demarcation between jurisdictions of provincial and local body administrations. This is necessary because the district nazims, who mostly were influential people of their areas, victimised their political opponents.
The irony was that civic amenities like public parks and playgrounds, etc. remained in shambles while the nazims kept demanding that the powers of the chief minister for example, controlling the police be given to them. The districts and city nazims were so powerful administratively and resourceful financially that even former MNAs and MPAs preferred to be nazims.
After the landmark 18th Amendment, the local body system has become a provincial subject. Balochistan made history in 2013 by conducting the country`s first ever local bodypolls on party basis. It was also the first local body election held under a political dispensation. Khyber Pakhtunkhwa held polls on May 30 with additional features of village and neighbourhood councils. Sindh and Punjab have completed necessary legislation in this connection and are planning to hold LB elections by the end of this year.
But for these systems to work, the enforcement of an effective monitoring and accountability mechanism is imperative for the strong local body system. When power is devolved from the top echelons to the lower tiers of government, there must be check and balances to know how public money was spent. And this is not possible till the local communities are made strong and local administration is run from the local body institutions, instead of from the autaqs of waderas, pirs and mirs as has been the historical practice.
The much cherished objective of good governance can be achieved when the local body system is deeply rooted among village communities and adapted to modern needs. The third tier of the government can then be a platform to improve local politics, economy, culture and society at large. • 

The writer is a member of staff.

He tweets @manzoor_chandio

Shikarpur's sardar-madressa nexus

By Manzoor Chandio

Published in Dawn, March 8, 2015 

Alexander Burnes, the 19th century Scottish traveller and explorer, had a fascinating impression of the Shikarpuri. He was in Kabul, where he met Shikarpuri bankers who offered to provide him with hundis payable in Bukhara (Uzbekistan), Astrakhan (Russia), Nijni-Novgorod (Russia) or St Macaire (France).
Burnes took up their offer on Bukhara, and as he writes, `to [hisj complete satisfaction.
Burnes didn`t know at the time, but Shikarpur`s ancient trade and commerce network connected more than just Shikarpur and Kabul; it was the preferred route for merchants travelling from South Asia to Central Asia and vice versa throughout the 18th and 19th centuries.
Shikarpur still remains a link between Afghanistan and this part of the world, but for the wrong reasons. `The city is a known smuggling route between Afghanistan and Pakistan,` boomed Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan in the National Assembly. `Terrorists from Afghanistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa pass through Shikarpur to reach Karachi.
It emerged from the minister`s statement that the city`s ancient trade and commerce network has now been replaced by a terror network. Shikarpur that once exported a variety of goods to Central Asia now apparently imports terrorists from the region: per police claims, the January 30 blast in Shikarpur`s Imambargah Karbala Maula, which claimed the lives of over 60 people and injured over 80, was carried out by an Uzbek national. So far, four suicide bombers have blown themselves up in the district; most of them have been suspected to be Uzbeks from Central Asia.
But why would Uzbek militants head to Shikarpur, once the seat of secular and tolerant education? Din Mohammed Shaikh, former district coordinator for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) and a resident of the city, argues that most of these `aliens` arrive in Shikarpur because of some connection with the city`s local madressas.
`We have been noticing the increasing number of aliens in the area, who come in contact mostly with local madressas and live inside them,` says Shaikh.
Geographically, the district of Shikarpur borders Balochistan on the west and is connected to southern Punjab through Kashmore in the north. Till the early 1980s, there were only three madressas in Shikarpur. Perhaps nobody really ever felt the need for madressa education either, as modern education upheld the legacy of peace and harmony that was lived and practiced by Bhittai, Shah Inayat Shaheed, Sachal Sarmast and Sami Chen Rai.
`With the collapse of modern education system during the1980s, the city saw the mushrooming of madressas, which not only offered admission to outsiders but also doubled up as musafirkhanas (rest houses) for outsiders to the area,` narrates Shaikh.
`Today, there are about 200 madressas in Shikarpur district imparting religious education only in Arabic, Of the 200 madressas, 74 are unregistered,` Shaikh says while quoting a survey carried out by an NGO.
`An estimated 10,000 students are enrolled at these madressas, some 3,000 of them belong to other provinces while those from Sindh belong to upper Sindh districts,` he continues. `Within three decades, madressas have grown from three to 200. In comparison, there are only 150 formal schools, four colleges and one university campus in Shikarpur city.
The angst is not without reason: going by the growth pattern of madressas in the district, the number of formal schools is widely expected to be further dwarfed by the number of seminaries in the near future. With the closure of hundreds of government schools and the problem of goosro (absentee) teachers, parents prefer sending their children to madressas in the hopes of `free` education, clothing and food.
Members of Sindhi civil society argue that this phenomenon is a reflection of a larger clash: between old institutions, such as the sardari system and madressas, and new institu-tions, such as the formal education system and the business community. Since Sindh`s sardars are reluctant to let go of their clout, they have found new allies in madressa maulvis.
`It looks like the government deliberately wants to revive old institutions by strengthening the medieval jirga justice system and madressa education,` says Javed Qazi, a civil society activist from Karachi who led a delegation to Shikarpur after the Imambargah Karbala Maula tragedy.
`What we are seeing is a new partnership being cultivated between the sardars of Shikarpur and the maulvis. The sardars` old partners used to be the Barelvi shrines, but due to the non-expansionist nature of Sindh`s shrines, this partnership could not match the power-grabbing greed of Sindhi sardars,` argues Qazi. `For that reason, now we see new alignments in Sindhi society, with sardars establishing ties with Wahabi madressas. Both the old institutions are promoting each others` interests in the garb of tribalism and religion.
The government is largely absent from running madressaoperations, but some 40 registered madressas are funded by the Sindh government from its Zakat fund. Government officials, locals claim, don`t bother checking up on the condition of the government-funded madressas or even the quality of education and syllabus being taught.
Most madressas are run by Deobandi parties: the number of Jamiat Ulema Islam (JUI-F)-run madressas is estimated to be around 125 in Shikarpur while the Jamaat-i-Islami runs 25 madressas. There are four seminaries from the Shia school of thought. Some madressas are run by clerics of the Ahl-i-Sunnat and Ahl-i-Hadith schools of thoughts.
Almost all madressas have mosques inside their compounds but the biggest problem is that mosques have all been tagged with a particular school of thought. Because of such associations, a common man dare not go inside `the house of God` which is operated by a rival sect.
`As compared to other parts of Sindh, Shikarpur has undergone a complete transformation and civil society has lost its say,` says a local resident, while talking on condition of anonymity. `A madressa administrator is more powerful if he has the blessings of the area sardar. The nexus between clan and sect has grown so strong that a Sunni sardar of Shikarpur allegedly chose to kill off his rival Shia sardar by sending a suicide bomber to attack him.
With politics and religion now tied in a relationship, explains Shikarpuri columnist Mumtaz Mangi, it soonbecame clear that most madressas in Shikarpur were constructed on grabbed land. `Madressas are operating like a mafia and grabbing empty government plots and open spaces along main roads. They are very good at collecting donations in the name of constructing a new madressa,` he says.
`Government authorities seem reluctant to control the expansion of madressas, since policemen were involved in grabbing land for many madressas,` alleges Mangi.
`Because of no government checks or monitoring system, some people with criminal backgrounds have also now established madressas and shelter their gangsters inside them.
They blackmail traders and extort money from them in the name of providing food to Talibs; but in fact, Talibs are sent to beg for food from houses. Donations and zakat money are gobbled up by madressa handlers,` Mangi explains.
Inside the madressas, only sect-based education is imparted to students while no employable skills are taught. In turn, those who graduate from one seminary tend to set up another sect-based seminary, since that is the only job they know.
Because only religious education is imparted at madressas, the Talibs began considering themselves as the protectors of faith, and put checks on citizens as if they were state actors.
This bred intolerance in society and disturbed any notions of peaceful coexistence, thereby also radicalising young people in the city.
Soon enough, Shikarpur began to see the social impact of this unchecked burgeoning of madressas.
`The city has often witnessed clashes over who becomes the peshimam. Those backed by powerful clans are sure to take over mosques,` argues Qazi. `Because of a lack of skills and unemployment, madressa-cducated peshimams defend their jobs at any cost and often indulge in violence to do so.
It`s a wrong assumption that madressas serve food and clothes to Talibs. Instead, most madressa Talibs depend on the generosity of the people of Shikarpur for food, cloth and medicines.
Then there is policing of cultural activities and citizens` personal lives.
`The frightening part is that Talibs have often been used to attack musical events and bodybuilding contests, which once were a regular feature of city life. The historical Mina Bazaar for women has been shut too after threats from madressa Talibs,` says Mangi.
Shaikh agrees, but adds that young people in Shikarpur are fast becoming radicalised because of the social engineering brought about by madressas. The regime of fear is such that residents of the city now believe that bands of club-wielding Talibs are ever ready to attack any social event they deem as un-Islamic.
`For that reason no musical programme has been held in the city for the last several years. The city`s Mina Bazaar has been closed for an indefinite period. Even nationalist parties like Qaumi Awami Tehrik of Palijo, Jeay Sindh groups and others have stopped holding Jashan-i-Latif, which they once used to hold every year,` says Shaikh.
The absence of cultural activities by Sindhi nationalist groups and the ruling party`s alleged involvement in grabbing power and money has created a vacuum: religious parties find Shikarpur to be an empty field, on which more madressas can be constructed, and over which they can establish their writ. It would be no exaggeration to say that extremists have created a pocket of terror in the heart of Sindh, with no action by the government and not much resistance from the civil society or political parties either. • 

The writer is a member of staff 
He tweets @manzoor_chandio

Breaking the cycle of dependence

By Manzoor Chandio

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, June 1st, 2014

Sun, heat, sand, poverty … women in vibrant coloured dresses walking long distances in search of water; these are the images that are conjured when most people think of Thar. Now, the twin spectres of death and malnutrition have been added to this imagery.
Thar has been in the limelight for the past few months in the wake of the death of over 350 children caused by malnutrition and food and water scarcity, which has opened a new debate about developmental issues.
No doubt, the crisis has a direct link to the lopsided economic and development polices of the successive governments which have always focused on development of cities and ignored far flung arid regions. While most of the rural hinterland has river water and soil for tilling, Thar is an arid region where the people only depend on rain for water, and thus for food and fodder. A lack of rain means a famine-like situation.
The absence of even basic facilities has made Tharis dependent on nature and on spiritual ‘healers’ like Pir Saeen Pagaro and Makhdoom Shah Mehmood Qureshi. If the people have access to basic necessities of life it would help them to come out of the vicious cycle of dependence that they have been living under for generations and the miserable lifestyle that they have accepted as their destiny.
Simple interventions like road network and the provision of water will have beneficial effects on the lives of the people of Thar
The situation is so complicated that even experts fail to understand from where the government should start development work — the people are missing out on all basic necessities of life like water, food, healthcare, education and road infrastructure. Let’s start with that last one:

The road to progress

Development experts believe that a road network is essential for connecting the area with other parts of the country. While the southern strip of the desert in Umerkot and Tharparker districts has some road network and is accessible from Mirpurkhas and Badin districts, Achhro Thar (White Desert) in Sanghar district has remained underdeveloped because there are no roads at all. Situated along Sindh’s border with India, Achhro Thar can be defined as one of the most underdeveloped and inaccessible areas in the country.

Development experts stress the need for constructing a road from Khipro up to the border with India. At present most of the dates produced in Khairpur and Sukkur are exported to India through the Wagah border, despite the fact that Jaisalmer is the nearest city in India from Sindh. Trade opening with India from a border point somewhere in Achhro Thar will greatly benefit the area.
The road from Badin to Mithi and then to Nagarparkar — constructed during the Arbab Rahim government (2004-2007) — made it easy for NGOs to carry out welfare work in Tharparkar district. “We’ve installed 23 water pumping windmills near the wells used by villagers. The cost for moving machinery from cities to villages doubled because of lack of proper roads,” says Suleman Abro of Sindh Agricultural and Forestry Workers Coordinating Organisation (Safwco).
“Our intervention is limited and focused. We’ve worked in the fields of water and health with the cooperation of Hurr Jamaat because people in the area are followers of Pir Saeen Pagaro,” says Mr Abro. “When the aid dries up we stop working. It’s the government’s responsibility to lay the basic infrastructure but unfortunately, the government and parliamentarians from the area are not paying attention to the area. Under Article 38-A of the Constitution, the people must be provided facilities like health, education, livelihood, shelter, etc, without discrimination. Unfortunately, the people living in the remote rural areas as well as low profile urban areas are not getting their constitutional rights,” he says.
The problem with the Thari society is that it has become stagnant and immobile. They only leave their area when there are no rains and animals start falling sick due to lack of water and food. The road construction will give them access to markets where they can sell products they make from wool. Thari women are very good at making rugs from sheep and goat wool, in addition to rallis and embroidered clothes. Now they sell such precious things to the middlemen who earn lots of money by selling their handicraft in the market. If their handicrafts are promoted and they are granted direct access to markets in cities, it can become a good source of income for them and lessen their economic woes.
In addition to that connectivity would also increase Thari people’s interaction with developed areas and empower them politically.
In the absence of a hospital in the entire Achhro Thar area, the construction of a road would make it easier for the people to move patients to nearby towns such as Khipro. One of the villagers told Dawn that at present it takes days to reach a nearby town; if someone is bitten by a snake “we usually arrange for a coffin when the patient is sent for medical aid as in most of the cases they die before getting any treatment.”

Teach a man to fish...

Connectivity and road access is not the only problem plaguing Thar. The depletion of already scarce resources has devastated human settlements and compels a large number of people of Thar to migrate to other areas in search of water and food during the dry period. The yearly cycle of migration can be stopped with the creation of income opportunities in the area. “There is much talk of drought and vulnerabilities in Kacho, Kohistan and Achhro Thar. But since Achhro Thar has not received much attention from the media, the common people do not have much information about this most marginalised part of the province. The White Desert of Sindh has its own unique socio-cultural, economic and political landscape,” says civil society activist Zulfiqar Halepoto. “There is a need for an integrated development strategy for the arid zone of Sindh and in this regard we are starting our work from Achro Thar,” he said.
It’s not that Thar is absolutely dry. There is ground water in Thar, but it is saline, which makes cultivation impossible. This water can be purified and made potable after desalination.

Though desalination has been successfully used since the 18th century, Akhter Iqbal Zuberi, a resident of Karachi, invented a towered desalination plant in 1993, which uses solar energy and distils water faster than other methods in use elsewhere in the world.
He told Dawn that the Sindh government is funding reverse osmosis plants in Thar which are costly and need electricity for operation, while towered solar desalination plants, constructed with cement and glass, are feasible for arid areas like Thar because such a plant does not require electricity and there is minimal maintenance cost. The plant can be operated by an unskilled man, is cost-effective and can be constructed in remote villages. Due to its low construction cost and dependence on solar energy it is quite affordable for a country like Pakistan where we cannot afford expensive fuel.
Zuberi says that “This plant is the most productive desalination plant developed anywhere. This invention needs government’s attention. It can also help the people of Thar and Cholistan where there is a need to desalinate ground and saline water through affordable method.”
Zuberi’s plant won an award from Energy Globe Foundation in 2013.
Besides desalination of ground water, another way to meet the water requirement is rainwater harvesting. Tharis have been harvesting rainwater since time immemorial, but there is a need to modernise this system to overcome water scarcity when there are no rains. Some of the villagers say that they need plastic sheets to spread around the ponds to stop water seepage. The other method is to construct cemented walls, but this would be too costly and the poor people can’t afford it.
Besides road network and water scarcity, the people of Thar lack education opportunities as well. Most of the schools in the region are closed. According to Safwco, the literacy rate in Sanghar district is 30.9 per cent. The exact figures for Achhro Thar, where there are only a few schools, are not available; here female literacy might be zero. When the people are uneducated and unskilled they have no choice but to continue with their ancestral occupations. Most of the people are herdsmen and they don’t want to leave their areas. They do come to the barrage areas only when there are no rains and go back to Thar when grass is in abundance after rains.