Sunday, January 9, 2011

Vietnam redux

Torrey Pines, California: today, against the beautiful backdrop of a US open links course with all of the excitement the best golfers in the world can bring to a major tournament, a simple wedding took place spanning two cultures. My 28-year-old nephew married a lovely Vietnamese lady. Finishing a two-year Fulbright fellowship she returns to Vietnam in 10 day’s time to honour the commitment to use her newly acquired skills at home. The groom, a double master’s degree graduate student at Duke’s Fuqua Business School, finishes this spring and will leave for Vietnam where he expects to find employment too.
His parents are concerned about having a son and daughter-in-law literally halfway around the world in a country that is as foreign to most Americans today as Mars. No doubt, both parents are reminded of and cautioned by my Vietnamese experiences some 45 years ago as the US began its military build-up and, to quote a well-worn phrase, “to pay any price and bear any burden”, which we surely did.
As a Swift boat skipper, my crew and I were assigned to our northern most base in Da Nang, South Vietnam with an operating area ranging from the 17th parallel that divided north and south (and which we would more than occasionally cross, violating the rules of engagement as men or boys of a certain age will do) to some 100 miles south to the infamous Cape Batangan peninsula and a small village that became more infamous in 1970; it was called My Lai. Even then, Batangan and My Lai were very dangerous places, producing casualties while we operated there. Indeed, a Naval Academy classmate was killed nearby when his South Vietnamese junk base was overrun by Viet Cong.
Our training in San Diego for that war ranged from the absurd to ridiculous. Much of my time was spent commuting to San Francisco to be with a then-paramour. Counter-insurgency class work mirrored the absence of understanding that ultimately doomed the Vietnam venture though one lecture remained permanently embedded in my mind. The lecturer was retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Paul Vann who would come to prominence as a civilian advisor subsequently killed in Vietnam and the subject of a highly critical biography by Neil Sheehan called A Bright Shining Lie.
Vann extolled the virtues of the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, turning them into adversaries of heroic proportion while decrying the incompetence and frequent cowardice of our erstwhile South Vietnamese allies. I asked Vann why the North seemed so well endowed with effective fighters and the South so sparse in comparison. His answer was unforgettable. “I guess,” he said, “God put all the good guys on the other side”.
We lost. They won. But the Vietnamese have had a rather unusual record of success, first against the Chinese a millennia ago. While it took about a century defeating the French, culminating in what the famous French historian of Vietnam, Bernard Fall, termed, “Hell in a very small place” (the battle of Dien Bien Phu in the Spring of 1954). General Vo Nguyen Giap, North Vietnam’s most capable and famous soldier, ferried over nearly impossible terrain artillery that for eight weeks bombarded the fortress into surrender. After commanding French General Christian DeCastries’ capitulation, France would withdraw from Indo China, and North Vietnam would be created.
Twenty years later, Giap defeated the US. That war cost us 58,000 dead and unknown numbers of Vietnamese on both sides killed with many more maimed and wounded. In 1979, Vietnam mauled an advancing Chinese army intent on teaching Hanoi a lesson.
Today, Vietnam’s some 90 million people are able, industrious and entrepreneurial. Economically, Vietnam is one of the so-called Asian tigers with an annual GDP growth that is between six to nine percent. A small anecdote underscores this transformation.
Hoi An was a small village near our operating base in Chu Lai. Fire fights and casualties for sailors, marines and finally army units stationed there were frequent. Today, Hoi An boasts one of the finest restaurants in the world.
As the US completes its withdrawal from Iraq and presumably starts a staged builddown from Afghanistan this summer, we can only hope that some 40 years from now, both countries will evolve as successfully as Vietnam has. Never a democracy, Vietnam is a stable and growing emerging state. Young people such as the two married today will no doubt contribute to that growth.
Whether or not Vann was correct and God put all the good guys on one side, the US needs to stand back and examine closely its role in the world and the propensity to use force too often and excessively. Our record since World War II is not good. It has taken decades for a united Vietnam to overcome the scars and ravages of war. How long it will take for us to find the right policy mix of soft and hard means to get our way still remains a very open question.

Pakistan and its tenacity of spirit

The partition of Punjab is an event, which occurred prior to the existence of a fair market share of the modern readership of the Daily Times. But what is written on the souls of men and transferred by human tongue to the succeeding generations continues to impact the manner in which communities relate to one another.
The upheaval of the human anthill, which was both anticipated and precipitated by the Radcliffe Award, brought about, in tumultuous manner, the birth of a modern nation. Too many nations are birthed in water and blood, symbolic of the elements of cleansing and carnage. But what a blood-covered baby it was, when it was born! With nary a midwife nor a breast to suckle from the onset of first hunger, the cry, which rose up from the face of the earth echoes within the ears of historians to this day.
Politically, the first signs of hunger were seen during the 1920s when the All India Muslim League (AIML) underwent a metamorphosis from a fairly sturdy and compact political organisation concerned with adequate Muslim representation within the public government sector to an entity seeking political purchase on a much grander scale. Having acquired modest regional gains, the AIML experienced the political bifurcation which occurs when diversity of views and strong parallel opinions begin to emerge amongst the players. And, as with all such internal struggles, leadership begins to rise to the top. The names are familiar and there is no need to recount the leadership grid.
It was during the 1930s when the seeds of self-determination began to sprout within the Muslim populations emerging from under the shadow of colonialism. Whether considering the nascent political structure of Al-Ikhwan in Egypt, or the rustlings of change in Algeria in a post-WWII environment, the Muslim world was experiencing a shifting political landscape, where fertile ideas clashed with harsher realities.For the Muslims of India, the possibility of a separate piece of real estate, where a national taproot could flourish and the expression of a cohesive national identity be cultivated, exploded from the imaginations of the few to the hearts of the many in the early 1940s. There is nothing quite as tantalising and seductive as the call to freedom. And there is nothing quite as disastrous and tragic as flights to freedom accompanied by anarchy.
Aspects of the ill-clad policy — of all involved — were brought home to me in the last two months whilst I provided my skill as a copy editor to a friend. The 500-page manuscript on the partition of Punjab offered a most compelling reason for me to share my thoughts. Men were butchered, women were dishonoured and family trees stripped of their branches for the sake of Pakistan. These pictures are brutal enough. But there is one memory, which must never be forgotten. It is the memory of the many babies who were lifted aloft on spears during the birth of a nation.
Most people are not inherently brutal. Were that true, our world would not be so vastly populated. But history shows that with a certain mix of societal ingredients the mass is reduced to animal herd and mob mentality prevails. Policy measures lacking implementation capabilities harm community amity and cohesion. They are the messengers without legs. Sectarian division is a mere rumoured whisper or solitary incendiary act away when conditions are volatile enough for communal crisis. Such was the nature of the birth of the bloody baby.
Pakistan moved along in somewhat of an orphaned status from the beginning. This produced the tenacity of spirit required for survival. In more than the 60 years since the birth of a nation, the poor have done what the poor do best: procreate. This is not necessarily bad. Children are a blessing. Minus a citizenry there is no true national treasure. But the geometric nature of population requires policies, which work in a multi-streaming manner to reach all the layers of society. Citizens must be reminded of an overlay of governance with the shadow of paternal guidance to retain their belief in the good of the state.
Pakistan has many challenges, which exist as ground floor opportunities for improving the lives of the poorest of the citizens. My own childhood was spent within an indigenous tribal belt of Mexico where nine distinct tribes with their own dialects, manner of dress and traditions taught me basic lessons regarding the nature of poverty and the propensity for happiness. Leaning back on my heels whilst squatting inside cane huts to savour blue corn tortillas with fried grasshoppers, or perhaps, Oaxaca hot chocolate served in a chipped clay mug, taught me the lessons of life. The poor require a source of water, a plot of ground for a small ancestral home, and education sufficient against functional illiteracy. These things made life bearable and kept desperation at bay. My mother tells the story of visiting a home high in the mountains of the Sierra Madre where a baby less than 24 hours old had been placed in a crate and wrapped in an old shirt. The child’s mother was busily preparing a meal for the family. I have often wondered if the baby survived. My heart likes to remind me that the spirit to survive is strong, even amongst the smallest of humans.
But what must be done for Pakistan? The strength was there for the birth. But where are the political midwives to monitor the labour and birth of new policies which stream out into the communities? And where is the breast of nourishment for today? Turning populations from liability to asset requires wisdom. It also requires the hard work of policy implementation. But all that I have written today is the simplest of gifts: that of a pen dipped into an inkwell of love.

China, India and Pakistan

The Pakistani media gave a lot of attention to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and then Pakistan. Since we consider our friendship with China to be higher than the mountains and deeper than the oceans, it was understandably a matter of concern for us how such a friend would relate to a country with which we profess enmity that, by the same token, may be higher than all the known mountains and deeper than all the known oceans. Reliance on superlatives rather than normal expression is indeed our forte. I do not understand why we need to exaggerate some relationships and oversimplify others. The problem is that hyperbolic descriptions of our friends and enemies are delusional.
Foreign relations and foreign policy cannot reasonably be based on poetic licence, though there is no reason to ground them on cold-blooded instrumentalism either. A middle course based on facts and enlightened pragmatism is always better. Was it not so that we were once calling ourselves the most allied-ally of the US? The Americans, on the other hand, never at any stage encouraged us to make such declarations of love. Even during the Eisenhower period, the Americans were very clear that India was the paramount power in South Asia and also the only democracy.
In my forthcoming book on the role of the military in Pakistan, I have demonstrated that by the 1960s the Americans were very clear that we had entered military pacts with them to deal with India and not because of our zeal to fight communism. Of course, the US-Pakistan courtship warmed up after the Soviet Union sent troops to aid their beleaguered comrades in Afghanistan, but even then both sides were allied to each other for purely instrumental reasons.
Another example of our extravagance is the way we suck up to the Saudis. Some years ago, when one of the Saudi Kings expired, former President Musharraf declared one week of national mourning. The Saudis themselves did nothing of the sort because, from the Wahabi point of view, any such display of feelings for a human being is heresy. I think these examples should suffice to establish the point I want to make.
So then, what happened during Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to India and Pakistan? China and India agreed to increase their trade to $ 100 billion by 2015. The Chinese also promised to rectify the trade imbalance between them; at present, China exports much more than it imports from India. The Chinese premier said that there was room for both India and China to grow and therefore there was no need to go down the path of confrontation. He did not, however, make concessions on their border disputes. About India’s ambitions to become a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the Chinese were reticent.
The Chinese probably want to keep the pressure on India in case India gets too cosy with the Americans. The Chinese also did not agree to mention a Pakistani hand in the Mumbai terrorist attacks of November 26, 2008. Even more significant was that China advised India and Pakistan to resolve the Kashmir dispute through negotiations. China is no less worried than India about Pakistan becoming a springboard for a Taliban type of jihad. That could entail the Muslim-majority Xinjiang being destabilised.
Pakistan does enjoy a special status in terms of Chinese strategy to maintain a presence in South Asia. The port at Gwadar and prospective minerals in Balochistan make Pakistan dear to the Chinese. We are going to benefit from Chinese investments to the tune of $ 25 billion. China has sold us MIG aircraft and other armament and it is commonly believed in both Washington DC and Delhi that China also assisted us in becoming a nuclear power. From the Chinese point of view, an overbearing India in South Asia is not good for them. However, from this it does not follow that China would risk its own security or economic interests if we provoke a conflict with India.
In the 1965 war, the Chinese ambassador to Islamabad was advising guerrilla warfare to Pakistan when both Ayub Khan and Z A Bhutto were worried to death that the Indians could walk into Lahore anytime. I am sure the Chinese knew that the Pakistani leadership was not even remotely capable of fighting guerrilla warfare so their advice only won them brownie points and nothing more. It is foolish to believe that it was because of China that India did not invade East Pakistan in 1965. The Indians are not stupid. At that time, the Bengalis were still not alienated from West Pakistan. Equally, in November 1971, when Z A Bhutto was sent to China to solicit help in case of war with India, he returned home without any Chinese guarantees because that could have meant war — it being drawn into a war with the Soviet Union, with which India had recently entered into a 20-year treaty of mutual help.
Keeping these facts in view, if China and India can put their border disputes aside and the contentious issue of Tibet can also be set aside while they increase their trade, why can we not follow suit? Pakistan’s economic prosperity is dependent largely on us normalising relations with India. Of course it takes two to tango and we have to find out how serious India is about fair and equal trade with us. I have met many Pakistanis who say that the Indians talk with a silver tongue when it comes to generalities about trade and so on. However, when it comes to actual practice, Indian bureaucracy is narrow-minded and mean and creates such hurdles that Pakistani traders give up in frustration.
Recently, I learnt that Pakistan has challenged in Indian courts the fact that a special variety of basmati rice called Super Basmati, developed by Pakistani scientists, is now being grown in India. According to the gentleman who informed me, this is not acceptable behaviour and constitutes a breach of the law. This is only one case. More examples can be given.
Equally, Pakistan’s security depends upon normalising relations with India. One cannot reasonably claim that India constitutes a threat to us when out of the four wars with India, three were initiated by us: 1947-48, 1965 and 1999. Since we are now a nuclear power, India cannot hit us with impunity. Therefore, a reasonable basis exists for us to work out a new relationship with India. Let us find out what India really wants. This we can do without worrying about Chinese and American reactions. Pakistan is not that important for either of them.

Predictions, past and future

My first column in this newspaper every year is about predictions I made the previous year, how right I was, and then about predictions for the new year. So first about my predictions for the past year (‘Old predictions and new’, Daily Times, January 4, 2010) and how well I did.

“President Zardari, Prime Minister Gilani and all the chief ministers and provincial governments will stay essentially where they are right now. Of these, the only person who might be at risk is PM Gilani, but I believe that he will continue in his present position.” And I was right about all of them.
“Basant of course will again be cancelled.” Right about that again.
Now to what I called the more dicey predictions. “The CJ and the higher courts will settle down into a state of ‘judicial restraint’ after their initial activist exuberance of the past year.” Wrong about that.
“The fallout of the disappearing National Reconciliation Ordinance (NRO) will however escalate, slowly but surely, and some of the former ‘beneficiaries’ of this law will either be forced out of government for good or at least be forced to resign until such time that that they are cleared by the courts or settle with the authorities.” Wrong about it, but perhaps we have not seen the end of this yet.
“The recipients of major loans that were ‘forgiven’ during successive past governments will be the next major category of people to be brought under investigation.” Probably not entirely wrong about it.
“The 17th Amendment will eventually go this year but not until the PPP, without whose parliamentary support no new amendment can be passed, has extracted its ‘pound of flesh’ (and blood) from the N-League leadership. I do not believe that Mian Nawaz Sharif will contest for a national assembly seat as long as the 17th Amendment is still in place.” Definitely not wrong since the amendment is history and Mr Nawaz Sharif has done nothing to upset the PPP applecart nor has he contested any bye-elections since the passage of the 18th Amendment. “A precursor to the repeal of the 17th Amendment in my opinion will be the return of the PPP as an active part of the Punjab government.” Wrong about this.
“Since I do not see any ‘mid-term’ elections happening this year, therefore I do not foresee any important structural changes in any of the major political parties this year either.” Right about that one as also about not getting a ‘national government’ during the year that just went by.
“I predict that some form of healthcare legislation will be passed this year that de-criminalises medical ‘malpractice’ with a simultaneous increase in surveillance of private medical centres and of the lax ‘certification’ process of private medical colleges and universities and of their graduates.” Right about that but no real implementation of these laws.
“Concerning load shedding, I actually believe that by the end of this year it will really become much less of a problem.” Wrong!
“It is my considered belief that the recent spate of terrorist activity will settle down as the Pakistan Army continues to put pressure on the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP).” Wrong.
“About the US ‘surge’ in Afghanistan I do not think it will succeed in pacifying Afghanistan.” Right about that. “And I do not think that the Chief of Army Staff will get an extension.” Could not have been more wrong on that one.
However, nobody could possibly have predicted the disastrous floods last year. In spite of dire predictions, there have been no reports of major corruption associated with the relief efforts. Therefore, the resettlement of the displaced victims of the floods has not become a political problem and the aftermath of the floods will probably have little bearing on the political scenarios that unfold during this year.
About future predictions now. First, the easier ones. Mr Zardari will continue as the president and I do not think that there will be any ‘in-house’ change or a non-PPP government at the Centre. Also I do not foresee that the PML-N government in Punjab will be replaced by a PPP-PML-Q coalition but Mr Salmaan Taseer will most likely stay on as governor and continue to be a thorn in the side of the PML-N. Also, the MQM will stay in coalition with the PPP until such time that the assemblies are dissolved and a new election is called for.
As far as the assemblies are concerned, I think that they will be dissolved by the end of this year and elections will be held early next year. This prediction is based on the assessment that the major problems facing the country, especially terrorism, inflation, power shortages and corruption are not going to get better any time soon. Therefore, the PPP government would like to call it quits earlier rather than later and call for snap elections. The PPP would like an interim government to take over and come out sort of unencumbered to contest the next election. The only variable is going to be the duration of an ‘interim’ government since this might depend on factors that are difficult to predict at this time.
Also the blasphemy laws are here to stay and no politician in his right mind is even going to try and tinker with them. And I can predict with reasonable certainty that the most honourable superior courts of Pakistan are not going to take any suo motu actions to protect non-Muslims being falsely accused under the blasphemy laws. However, the superior courts, especially the honourable Supreme Court, will continue to pursue all wealthy ‘evildoers’ with ever greater vigilance and will in the process make Pakistan an even less business-friendly place than it is at this time.
Finally, the Pakistan Army will eventually have to take action against the ‘miscreants’ in North Waziristan once this winter is over. Not because the US wants it but because it is necessary.

China’s long march towards capitalism

The spectacular growth rates, massive commodity production, gigantic infrastructural projects and overtaking Japan as the world’s second largest economy has brought China to the world centre-stage. Yet all these enormous advances eclipse the intense social and political tensions that are rampant in this most populous country of the planet. The Chinese economy is surging ahead with a growth rate of around 10 percent, has a huge trade surplus, holds the highest forex reserves, technologically is catching up or even surpassing the west, and has built up a formidable military machine. It also has the largest gulf between the rich and the poor, stark regional disparities and excruciating working conditions of its toilers. The scourge of unemployment has reached a figure of 150 million. A large number of workers are caged in the factories. Privatisation of land has struck havoc for the rural population. Most of the ranting about China’s development obscures the real reason for this ‘miracle’ — the revolution of 1949.
China experienced three revolutions in the 20th century. The first was the bourgeois democratic revolution of 1910-11, which was led by Sun Yat-sen. This was defeated after the Wuchang uprising was crushed. In any case, the belated bourgeoisie was economically and politically incapable of carrying out the tasks posed by history. The second revolution was that of 1925-27, which was proletarian in its nature. It was led by Ch’en Tu-hsiu, the founder of the Communist Party of China (CCP) who remained its General Secretary till 1927. This revolution was drowned in blood by the nationalist forces of Chiang Kai-shek. It is an irony that under pressure from Moscow, the CCP was forced to merge with the Kuomintang led by Chiang as it was in a conflict with Japanese imperialism. Ch’en and other Chinese communists had opposed the fusion with the Kuomintang. As soon as the CCP entered the Kuomintang, Chiang abandoned the fight against the Japanese and crushed the CCP, killing thousands of its activists. The third Chinese revolution of 1949 was led by Mao Zedong. It was a peasant revolt led by the Red Army, which had been organised mainly in the countryside by Mao and Chou En-lai after they had fled the urban centres in the autumn of 1927. The expropriation of landed estates was being executed during the famous Long March. This gave a large social base to the Red Army amongst the peasantry. However, it was the industrial proletariat of Nanjing, Shanghai, Canton, Peking and other cities who occupied the factories and capitalism was overthrown. But the regime that emerged was not based on the model of the Moscow of 1917 but that of the 1940s. This was a bureaucratic caricature of a democratic socialist regime set up by the Bolsheviks after the October Revolution. Still the Chinese Revolution of 1949 was one of the greatest events of human history. Capitalism and landlordism were overthrown and the imperialist yoke was smashed. It was this planned economy that brought China out of the extreme backwardness imposed by its reactionary ruling classes and the imperialist repression and plunder. China had already achieved growth rates of 11-12 percent in the 1950s. Soaring growth in a planned economy, as opposed to the market economy, rapidly uplifts society. Although many mistakes and blunders were made, rapid development took place in the fields of health, education, technology, agriculture and industry. It was this social and physical infrastructural expansion, high level of skill and vocational training that has been the root cause of the present growth in China. However, a planned socialist economy needs workers’ democracy as a human body needs oxygen. Devoid of the methodology of Marxist internationalism, isolated in a nation state, the economy began to stagnate. Mao’s strategy of the ‘Great Leap’ and the ‘Cultural Revolution’ in the 1960s failed to impede the economic decline.
The turn toward capitalist restoration started in 1978 when the right wing of the CCP led by Deng Zhao Ping was able to take charge after Mao’s death. Initially they tried to follow the policy first put forward by Nikolai Bukharin during the debate on the New Economic Policy in the Bolshevik central committee around 1920. In Russia, the Bolsheviks had rejected this policy but Deng pursued this policy of opening up the planned economy to foreign capital vigorously. They called it ‘market socialism’, which was a contradictory term in itself. The 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising and massacre startled them. They also studied the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin wall. Hence their approach became more gradual and they tried to maintain the state domination of the economy. But with the opening up of China, the imperialist monopolies rushed in with massive investments. The totalitarian nature of the state was a bonus for these corporate vultures. With workers under strict control, they had a better chance of extracting higher rates of profits. The gains of the revolution through obliteration of capitalism were now being used to prop up the system in deep crisis on a world scale. An hour’s wage of a Volkswagen worker in Stuttgart equalled a month’s salary of the worker of the same company in Shenzhen. However, wherever capitalism penetrates it brings along its vices of corruption, selfishness, prostitution, crime and exploitation. After the capitalist restoration has set in, China is in the throes of ruthless exploitation and social instability. Paradoxically, through this industrial expansion the Chinese working class has become the world’s largest proletarian bastion. The strikes and struggles of this young proletariat are on the rise. In 2010 there were threefold more strikes than in the previous year. Some achieved significant victories. There are mounting pressures on the CCP from below. The CCP is neither ‘communist’ nor a ‘party’. It is a bureaucratic elite where billionaires are leeching the system and awarding themselves a heredity status in private property and ownership. With massive export of capital, it assumes an imperialist character. This is a blatant desecration of communism. Splits in the ruling elite are sharpening. The process of capitalist restoration has been the cause of volatile contradictions in society. They will explode with volcanic eruptions. Once the mighty Chinese proletariat enters the arena of class struggle, a revolutionary socio-economic transformation will be inexorable. As Napoleon once said, “When China awakes, the whole world will tremble.”

2010: a year of turmoil

The year 2010 was a mixed bag for Pakistan. There were some positive aspects, but mostly the year was one of sorrow and pain. Pakistan faced political turmoil, economic woes and terrorism. The positives of 2010 included the 18th Amendment and the NFC Award, both of which empowered the provinces. The passage of the 19th Amendment with consensus averted an executive-judiciary clash. Renowned human rights activist Asma Jahangir’s victory in the SCBA presidential elections raised hopes that the judiciary will maintain its independence but will not destabilise the democratic process. It remains to be seen what 2011 has in store for the country, but a recap of events in 2010 might shed some light on the shape of things to come.
It is quite interesting to note that on the first day of last year, this paper carried a headline: “‘N’ not a friendly opposition: Zardari” (Daily Times, January 1, 2010) and on December 31, 2010, the headline read: ‘PML-N won’t support PPP govt: Nawaz’. Coming full circle, are we? The coalition government led by the PPP is facing some trouble after the JUI-F decided to call it quits. On top of that, the MQM opted to give up its ministries in the federal cabinet but will continue to sit on the treasury benches and remain part of the coalition government in Sindh for the time being. Efforts are underway by President Zardari to save the coalition. Right now he is in Karachi to discuss matters with the MQM and address their grievances. Meanwhile, the PPP is also trying to woo the JUI-F back into the coalition but Maulana Fazlur Rehman is proving to be a tough nut to crack this time round. Critics are now describing the PPP’s policy of reconciliation as ‘appeasement’. Instead of giving them short shrift, the PPP seems to be inclined to contemplate giving in to even some unjustified demands of its coalition partners. This shows the level of insecurity the PPP is feeling right now. President Zardari apprised PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif about the current political imbroglio and has asked for his help in assisting the government to pull the country out from its crises. Though Mian sahib has said that his party will not support the PPP government, he does not want the military to come back to power either. So far, the PML-N is honouring this part at least of the Charter of Democracy (CoD) as far as civil-military relations are concerned. Mr Sharif seems to have learnt his lesson and is now one of the most vocal voices against military dictatorship. With the exception of the MQM, whose chief Altaf Hussain called for “patriotic generals” to save Pakistan, all political parties are on the same page vis-à-vis martial law. Even the MQM had to backtrack on its call as it did not fly well.
WikiLeaks recently revealed the ‘strange’ civil-military relations that were discussed in the US embassy cables. The cables hinted at the backdoor political moves by army chief General Kayani. Despite that, a three-year extension was granted to General Kayani. With all the misgivings about the resentment within the military and the bad precedent that it sets for people who do not retire when the time comes, our security situation demanded sticking to General Kayani. General Kayani publicly has been supporting the democratic government and the system.
Apart from the political situation, the economy seems to be facing a downward spiral and inflation has increased at an alarming pace. It has become difficult for the masses to survive under the circumstances. The IMF may have given us a lease of life by extending their Standby Arrangement for another nine months but unless the government is able to create consensus on the RGST, the government’s revenues will take a hit. The government should set its own house in order by exercising belt-tightening and not go on merrily as before. This would create credibility for the government and may assist in creating a consensus on the RGST. The government also needs to sort out the state-owned enterprises with better management and tackle the energy crisis that is causing misery for the people at large.
The economy was hit hard by the worst ever floods in our history, due to which more than 20 million people were affected. The flood affectees are still waiting for rehabilitation because of donor fatigue and corruption charges against the government. The people of Pakistan must not forget their fellow citizens who are in need of utmost help.
The situation in Balochistan is going from bad to worse, what with the number of missing persons increasing and targeted killings of the Baloch continuing. The sad truth is that the elected politicians are not in control in the province and the FC is running a parallel government there. The Baloch insurgents are fighting for their just rights unlike the terrorists in other parts of Pakistan. The Baloch imbroglio is basically a political issue and can only be tackled through a political settlement, not the use of military might.
The terrorists wreaked havoc last year. Not only did they attack the security forces, markets and processions, many Sufi shrines were also attacked. Most notably, the attacks at Data Darbar in Lahore, Baba Farid Ganj Shakar’s shrine in Pakpattan, and Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s shrine in Karachi not only killed dozens of people but also sent a message that the terrorists considered the people’s Sufi traditions as an obstacle in the imposition of their extremist agenda. On May 28, 2010, two Ahmedi worship places were attacked by the religious zealots in Lahore. Though the attacks against a minority were condemned all across the nation, the mullahs showed their usual apathy when it comes to the Ahmedis. It was a shameful day in our history because we were unable to protect an already persecuted community.
The only silver lining is that the PPP has been able to form a political consensus in favour of the war on terror. Apart from the religious parties, all others are on board and oppose the Taliban. We saw an increase in the number of drone attacks last year. WikiLeaks confirmed the ruling elite’s complicity in the drone attacks despite their public disapproval. Now the task ahead is to launch a military operation in North Waziristan. But if recent reports are correct that the militants are being shifted to Kurram Agency, the North Waziristan operation, if and when mounted, is unlikely to yield the expected results.
The case of Aasia Bibi once again brought into the limelight the Blasphemy Law, a flawed law open to abuse, which should not be retained on our statute books. The mullahs have shown their strength by putting the government on the back foot through pressure tactics, but if the extremist religious right continues to be appeased, our minorities and citizens generally will continue to fear for their lives. It is time to repeal or at the very least amend this law.
Our political class may have matured to a certain extent but there is no room for complacency. Far more needs to be done for the consolidation and progress of democracy. The sorry history of military dictatorships needs to be done away with and democracy, despite its flaws and warts, must be allowed to flourish. Our survival depends on it.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Do you know popcorn bursting with nutrients?

There's no doubt broccoli, watercress and acai berries are overflowing with healthy vitamins and minerals, but what about the foods we actually want to eat? As a new study reveals that the once-demonised egg should be regarded as a 'superfood' (it's packed with vital antioxidants and nutrients).
The humble cinema snack could prevent cancer and help dieters.
'Most people don't know that popcorn is a wholegrain shown to reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer, and just a 30g serving - that's half a small box of popcorn in the cinema - is equivalent to one daily portion of brown rice or whole-wheat pasta,' says Catherine Collins, chief dietician at St George's hospital in London.
Popcorn also contains three times more fibre by weight than sunflower seeds, keeping you feeling fuller for longer, as well as balancing your blood sugar levels (so no mood swings or cravings for sweet snacks) and helping to lower 'bad' LDL cholesterol. It even has a dose of B vitamins to boost your energy levels.
A study presented last August to the American Chemical Society suggests the real health benefits could lie more in its 'surprisingly large' polyphenol content, antioxidants thought to mop up free radicals, the potentially damaging chemicals that cause diseases such as cancer and heart disease.

Time to Relax

Nowadays, more and more sports and fitness buffs are taking massage seriously as a part of their conditioning programs. But, many of us are of the opinion that it's meant for just the professional athletes. That is so not true. Massage is for everyone, even for you. It has a greater number of benefits which we fail to see otherwise, considering it as a luxury.
Benefits of massage can be acquired by anyone. Commonly massage can help you by providing you with include relaxation, improved blood circulation and relief of muscle tension.
As for fitness athletes, massage can greatly help in improving their flexibility and reduces the angst of athletic competition. Massage helps get better performance, boost endurance, and help lower fatigue levels.
There is a variety of massage you can choose from. A good massage therapist may use many different styles and help in providing you with a good sense of relief and relaxation.
How many of you think a good massage can have a positive impact on your overall performance? Is it a luxury or need after working at stretch for 8 hours for six/seven days a week?

Cell phones more distractive than music listening, while driving

Simply listening to someone over a mobile phone, without dialing and holding it, while driving may distract the brain enough to cause an accident.
Previous studies have suggested that drivers who use cell phones run a greater risk of accidents, and that hands-free phones do not appreciably lower the odds, report.
The new findings cast further doubt on the idea that hands- free cell phones are safe for drivers. Just the act of listening appears to divert much of the brain resources that would normally go toward navigating the road.
American researchers studied 29 volunteers who used a driving simulator while inside an MRI brain scanner. Participants steered along a winding virtual road, once with no distractions and once while listening to various sentences and trying to decide whether they were true or false.
It was found that in the second scenario, the drivers' brain activity changed including a 37 percent drop in activity in the parietal lobe, a brain area involved in spatial sense and navigation.
Moreover, this shift in brain activity was accompanied by an increase in driving errors; drivers tended to drift more in their simulated lanes and were more likely to hit the virtual guardrail. Drivers need to keep not only their hands on the wheel; they also have to keep their brains on the road.
According to the researchers conversing on a cell phone may well be more distracting than listening to music or to someone in the passenger seat.
Listening to music does not require the cognitive processing necessary for having a conversation and can be more readily tuned out.
Because driving and listening rely on different brain networks, some scientists had speculated that the brain could handle both tasks at the same time.
But the above findings suggest that there is only so much the brain can accomplish simultaneously.

4 healthy choices to change your life

If people would just do four things -- engage in regular physical activity, eat a healthy diet, not smoke and avoid becoming obese -- they could slash their risk of diabetes, heart attack, stroke or cancer by 80%, a new report has found.
But less than 10% of the 23,153 people in the multiyear study -- published in Monday’s Archives of Internal Medicine -- actually lived their lives this way. "The study has such a simple straightforward focus on making the point that prevention works in preventing serious disease," said Dr. J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer for the American Cancer Society.
"What really has been difficult is trying to figure out how to get people to take notice of the message and engage in healthy behaviors."
Healthy factors included never smoking; engaging in physical activity for at least 3 1/2 hours each week; eating a diet low in red meat and high in fruits and vegetables; and having a body mass index (BMI) lower than 30. (A person with a BMI of 30 or above is classed as obese.). Only about 9% of participants practiced all four healthy lifestyle choices, four percent practiced none and roughly 35% followed two of the healthy practices.
Researchers reviewed participants' medical records about eight years later, on average, looking for diabetes, heart attacks, strokes or cancer. People who followed all four healthy practices were at far lower risk compared with people who followed none: 93% lower risk for diabetes, 81% for a heart attack, 50% for a stroke and 36% for cancer.
The scientists also found that each healthy factor reduced chronic disease risk.

Average gamer is 35, often overweight and sad

Video games might be regarded as an obsession for youngsters, but in fact the average player is aged 35, often overweight, introverted and may be depressed, according to study.
The researchers found that the men who played video games weighed more and used the Internet more than other men, British TV reported. Women who played video games reported greater levels of depression and poorer overall health than non-gamers with researcher James Weaver and his colleagues suggesting video gaming for adults may be a form of "digital self-medication."
Researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at the behavior of 552 adults aged 19 to 90 from the Seattle-Tacoma area. They found 249 of these, or around 45 percent, were video-game players, with men accounting for 56 percent of these.They said women in particular might immerse themselves in brain-engaging digital environments as a means of self-distraction. "In short, they literally 'take their minds off' their worries, while playing a video game," the researchers said in a statement.
Adult video gamers also seemed less outgoing, or extroverted, and less social and assertive than non-gamers. This was consistent with prior research in adolescent video game enthusiasts that tied video game playing to sedentary habits, weight issues and mental health concerns. Adult video gamers of both sexes relied more on the Internet for social support than non-gamers, which supports prior research suggesting that adult video game players may "sacrifice real-world social activities to play video games." A higher body weight and a greater number of "poor mental health days" differentiated adult video gamers from non-gamers.

Shop till you drop’ culture flayed

‘Buy Nothing Day’ is annually observed worldwide on November 27, to remind consumers of their habits of overbuying and over-consumption. It is an international day of protest against unbridled consumerism, which is defined as a social or economic order based on the systematic creation of desire to purchase goods and services in amounts not needed.
The Network for Consumer Protection believes ‘Buy Nothing Day’ has a special significance for Pakistan where knowledge of consumers’ rights and observance of these rights is abysmally low. This year, the observation comes at a time when Pakistan is severely hit by unprecedented increase in the prices of food items. The day reminds the consumers of Pakistan that they can exert consumer power by opting not to make unnecessary purchases.
“As a nation, we should develop the habit of saving as Pakistani. By curtailing excessive and unnecessary buying, we could add to the saving pool of the country. The culture of ‘shop till you drop’ sits ill with a country, which is finding herself difficult to meet the basic needs of its people. The notion of shopping as necessary social activity has taken such a hold on middle classes that doing shopping has become replaced with going shopping,” The Network for Consumer Protection executive coordinator Dr. Arif Azad said.
Dr. Arif said in a country like Pakistan, where the middle class is fast shrinking and the gap between the poor and the rich is widening, unnecessary buying has created several social and economic problems.
The first ‘Buy Nothing Day’ was organised in Vancouver in September 1992, as a day for society to examine the issue of over-consumption. In 1997, it was moved to the Friday after American Thanksgiving, also called ‘Black Friday’, which is one of the 10 busiest shopping days in the United States.
Various gatherings and forms of protest have been used on ‘Buy Nothing Day’ to draw attention towards problem of over-consumption. For example, participants wander around shopping malls or other consumer havens with a blank stare and marvel at the expressionless faces of the shoppers. When asked what they are doing, the participants describe ‘Buy Nothing Day’ and explain its foundational principles.
Participants silently steer their shopping carts around a shopping mall or store in a long queue without putting anything in the carts or actually making any purchases. A strategy called the ‘Wildcat General Strike’ was used for the 2009 Buy Nothing Day where participants not only do not buy anything for 24 hours, but also keep their lights, televisions, computers and other non-essential appliances turned off, their cars parked, and their phones turned off or unplugged from sunrise to sunset.

Black clouds on the film industry moving away

It seems that the black clouds on the film industry are moving away and we would soon be able to see some good quality Lollywood Entertainment in cinemas and our TV and computer screens with good quality. ‘Good Quality’ here means big budgets, hi-tech technical work, strong scripts, powerful casting and yeah most importantly ‘the language’ for entertainment should be in a universal language.
Bol : Cast: Atif Aslam, Mahira Khan, Iman Ali, Humaima Abbasi, Khayyam Sarhadi and Shafqat Cheema, Music: Atif Aslam, Hadiqa Kiyani, Producer: Shoaib Mansoor, Director: Shoaib Mansoor
Bol is the second project of renowned director Mr. Shoaib Mansoor as (Film Director & producer) in Film Industry after his 2007 blockbuster hit ‘Khuda Key Liye (KKL)’. It seems like he (Shoaib Mansoor) is really a very big risk taker and a music lover as he is now casting “Music Sensation of Pakistan” Atif Aslam, quite similar to his last project (KKL) in which he casted Fawad Khan of very famous Pakistani Band (EP).
Victim: Cast: Humayun Saeed and Meera, Music: (Unknown), Producer: Wajahat Abbas Kazmi, Umar Wahidi and Ehtisham Siddiqui( Co- producer), Director: Aamir Zafar, Movie would be based on the post 9/11 and political situation of the world.
Devdas: Cast: Nadeem Shah (Devdas) , Zara Sheikh(Paro) and Meera (Chadarmukhi),
Music: Music Director: (Wajahat Attre), Lyricist: (Saeed Gilani, Ahmed Faraz), Singers: (Asha Bhosle, Kavita Krishnamurthy, Shreya Ghoshal, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik), Producer: Nadeem Shah, Director: Iqbal Kashmiri.
This is the overall 12th make of Devdas (novel) and 3rd Top Make. The interesting thing in the movie is that all songs are sung by the Indian singers, which includes some of the big names like ‘Asha Bhosley, Sonu Nigam, Alka Yagnik’. No doubt songs have got really excellent reviews and the music quality is also good. Songs are available on, click on the movie title to listen the songs of the movie. Although the movie got great pre -release reviews, but viewers are questioning the casting, especially the casting of man in ‘Lead Role’ Nadeem Shah as Devdas. Overall, movie looks good, now time will tell us what is good and what is bad. So just hold your nerves now.
Bhai Log: Language: Urdu, Cast: Moammar Rana, Saima, Babar Ali, Noor, Meera, Nadeem Baig and Javed Sheikh, Music: M. Arshad and Naveed Wajid Ali, Producer: Ch. Ijaz Kamran, Director: Syed Faisal Bukhari,
Love Mein Gum (Lost In Love): Language: Urdu, Cast: Moammar Rana, Reema Khan, Nabeel Khan, Araida Kazikstan (Azerbaijan) and Johnny Lever (India), Music: Written by noted poets “Khawaja Pervaiz” and “Aqeel ruby”, Sung by Abrarul Haq, Ali Zafar and others, Producer: Reema Khan (Herself), Director: Reema Khan (Herself)
Love mein Gum, previously known as (Kitnee Haseen Hai Zindagi) is the second project of Reema Khan as (Film Director and Producer) after her 2005 block buster ‘ Koi tujh Sa Kahan’. The real name of the movie was revealed way after the completion of its production, according to Reema herself the real name of the movie was not revealed so that no one can copy the name of the movie, movie was previously known as ‘Kitnee Haseen hai Zindagi’. One of the most interesting things in this movie is its international casting, which includes Indian Comedian Johnny Lever and Debut of an Azerbaijani girl named (Araida Kazikstan). The song promos are out on the Youtube and the title song ‘Love mein gum’ of the movie is sung by Ali Zafar. According to Reema this movie is the highest paid movie in the history of Lollywood. The theme is based on Paula Coelho's novel Veronica Decies to Die.
Slackistan : Cast: Shahbaz Shigri, Aisha Akhtar, Ali Rehman Khan, Shahana Khalil, Osman Khalid Butt, Khalid Saeed and Rafey Alam, Music: Adil Omer, Uzair Jaswal, The Kominas, Mole and Zero Bridge, Producer: Hammad Khan, Director: Hammad Khan
Movie is based on the youth life of some Islamabad teens. The special thing about this short film is that it has also been screened in the Cannes Films Festival earlier this year. Movie has also got good remarks. Film was to be launched in the summer Vacation but it has been delayed due to some unknown reasons. You would be able see the entertainment in this movie for just 85 minutes which means it comes in the category of Short films. Quality wise movie looks good and the Artists in this film are either new or with less experience.

False hopes about the Chinese visit

Some would call it double dealing or hypocrisy, but let’s just call it pretending. That way it becomes less emotive and more palatable. Why do we pretend as much as we do when in the end we end up fooling no one but ourselves? Worse, the pretence of yesterday becomes the facts of the next day when those acting the charade are not around to confirm that what was being reported as genuine was merely posturing, and actually a hoax. It’s important because if the past never really happened, how can it form the basis of formulating present policy? After all, the past is not just a package that you can lay away, and, besides, if we do not really know the past, how can we understand the present?
Consider the very, very recent past and the hoax perpetrated by this government about the $35 billion worth of MOUs concluded during the visit of the Chinese prime minister last week. A businessman summoned from Karachi tells a hilarious story of how he and some other businessman were rushed to Islamabad and made to conclude an agreement, the subject of which he has only a faint idea, but enough to know that it was as doable as walking on water.
Half of the so-called $35-billion deals are about more than doubling our annual trade with China. That’s not only ambitious but absurdly unrealistic. Actually, it’s impossible in our present circumstances when factories are closing due to power shortages and the costs of production have soared. Nor do we have a sufficient selection of items of interest to China. There are just so many carpets, leather goods, surgical instruments and footballs that the Chinese require or can kick around; and their textile products are cheaper. In any case, two-thirds of our bilateral trade is made up of Chinese exports to Pakistan and there is nothing to suggest that this imbalance will change in our favour.
The other half of the $35 billion concerns Chinese investments in infrastructure, and given the instability in the country these are not likely to be invested soon, if at all. The Chinese know our internal situation better than other foreign investors having been exposed to its dangers more than others. In other words, it was a disservice to our profound friendship with China to knowingly set unrealistic targets, raise bogus hopes and make pious commitments.
I recall a similar situation in 1995. Benazir Bhutto had sent Mr Zardari to South Korea at the head of a business delegation and he had returned with a sheaf of MOUs amounting to several billion dollars. BB was pleased at her husband’s success and proud of what he had achieved. Our ambassador to South Korea had sent the inevitably glowing report on the “success” of the visit which was essentially an exercise in self-praise, as he was the one responsible for organising it. Sensing my silence as a sign that I did not share her enthusiasm at the outcome, BB asked, “Isn’t it great?”
“Well, let’s put it this way, Prime Minister,” I replied. “If even 1 per cent of the agreements concluded actually happen, that will be exactly 100 per cent more than what I expect.” She gave a wry smile and we heard no more of the MOUs, although later she remembered to give the ambassador an out of turn, and thoroughly undeserved, promotion.
It is a pity that we had to go through the charade last week merely to show that our relations with China are as warm as we pretend they are. Actually, they are not only warm, but hot and glowing, but for reasons that are rooted in the national interests of both. The fake MOUs were not necessary; as usual we overdid the pretence.
You don’t have to be an economic expert to know that one of the principal tasks of a government is to make it harder for the rich to get richer, while keeping the poor from getting poorer. Instead, this policy has been stood on its head in Pakistan and implemented with such gusto that in some car showrooms Land Cruisers are in greater demand than smaller cars. As the people sink into penury wedding receptions grow more lavish and suicides more common. A local vendor recalled the story of the father with his son in his arms threatening to jump off a roof. When told that suicide is illegal and forbidden, he cried out, “Then why does He not feed us?” and jumped.
Another show of pretence-in-the-making is the supposed satisfaction by all the players on the Pakistani domestic scene that democracy is working and that, left to find its way through the shoals, it will eventually reach its destination, battered and bruised but somehow intact. In fact, the opposite is true. Democracy is not working. From the corruption index, to crime, to bad governance, everything has gone up. What has gone down, actually plummeted, is the morale and hope of the people, faith in their leaders and, more recently and alarmingly, a belief in the continued existence of this country. Sadly, the present system is not working; it’s floundering, although no one is certain what will work.
Some disagree with such a pessimistic depiction of the state we are in and recall the adage that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” But that’s hardly a good thing. “He who lives on hope will die fasting” is what many here have come to believe. In Pakistan today the tantalising properties of hope have no appeal. It’s not a case of viewing the glass being half empty or half full. We don’t even have a glass. Moreover, in the end hope must be satisfied to become worthwhile, and that’s doesn’t look like happening here, and few believe that it ever will.
The purpose is not to convey an “all is lost” message, but rather to shed the lies and shibboleths by which governments have operated thus far and which have proved so harmful and self-deluding. To bring about the change that is so needed, we have to confess what is wrong and bad in us, to ourselves, rather than hide them in the hope of earning cheap plaudits. When all is said and done, we owe our friends, and ourselves, the truth.

A wider net

We have, in recent months, heard a great deal about corruption in the government and all the scandals that have hit it from time to time. Nepotism and other forms of grave wrongdoing have done a great deal to shake the trust of people in the government. But it is also important that we keep in mind the fact that, sadly, in our country corruption is not limited to any one group. It is widespread and exists in many places. The rich and influential are often the worst culprits. If the scourge is ever to be rooted out, we will need to act against all of them – whenever proof becomes available.
The raid by the FIA on the office in Lahore of MPA Moonis Ellahi in connection with a land scam involving the National Insurance Company Ltd goes a step in this direction. The action was approved by the interior ministry. The Supreme Court had already given orders to recover amounts misappropriated by the NICL by the middle of next month. The action against Moonis Ellahi who has also faced accusations of corruption – particularly with regard to land deals – in the past, apparently after some individuals involved in the NICL affair opted to speak out, has important implications. It may act as a warning to others that they cannot get away with wrongdoing, regardless of the power and position they hold. This is important in our society where the privileged have enjoyed immunity from action for too long and this in turn has allowed the evil seeds of corruption to grow into giant vines that wrap themselves around our state and its people.

Asia stocks recover after China-led slump

Asian stock markets mostly rose on Wednesday as Shanghai started to regain ground following a weekend interest rate hike and firm oil prices lifted energy stocks.
Tokyo's Nikkei index ended the session up 0.50 percent, or 51.91 points, at 10,344.54, while Shanghai's Composite Index was up 0.19 percent in the afternoon and Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 1.17 percent.
However Sydney's S&P/ASX 200 index ended the session down 0.18 percent, or 8.7 points, at 4,768.6.
Chinese property developers led the gains in Shanghai, with Poly Real Estate gaining 1.1 percent after a 7.1 percent fall over the previous two sessions since Saturday's rate rise.
However the index was still more than three percent down from the start of the week following the second interest rate hike in less than three months.
"Today's gains are only a technical rebound. The market may stay weak on uncertainties over property tightening measures and the inflation outlook," Zhang Xiang, an analyst at Guodu Securities, told Dow Jones Newswires.
Sydney's stock index, which is particularly sensitive to China's economy, was weighed down by resource giants Rio Tinto and BHP, which fell 1.02 percent and 1.28 percent respectively. However rare earths developer Lynas Corp saw its shares leap after China slashed its export quotas for the lucrative metals.
Chinese energy stocks were providing support in Hong Kong, with CNOOC and PetroChina both up around two percent.
And Japanese energy stocks such as Inpex and Showa Shell Sekiyu gave Tokyo a lift.
Oil prices slipped slightly but the decline was likely to be limited as demand for heating oil is expected to stay firm due to the cold spell gripping the United States and Europe, analysts said.
New York's main contract, light sweet crude for February delivery, sank eight cents to 91.41 dollars per barrel.
Brent North Sea crude for February was down eight cents at 94.30 dollars.
US blue chip stocks hit fresh two-year highs on Tuesday thanks to a strong performance from the energy and utilities sectors, despite disappointing data on US consumer confidence and continued weakness in the housing market.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.18 percent, while the broader S&P 500 index was up 0.08 percent and the energy-light NASDAQ slipped 0.16 percent.
The dollar fell back against the euro in Asia following an earlier buy-up of the greenback prompted by a rise in US bond yields following a lacklustre sale of the US five-year notes.
The euro rose to 1.3124 dollars in Tokyo afternoon trade against 1.3116 dollars in New York late Tuesday. The single European currency was flat at 108.00 yen.
The dollar fell to 82.27 yen from 82.43 yen.
Gold opened at 1,403.00-1,404.00 US dollars an ounce in Hong Kong, up from Tuesday's close of 1,390.00-1,391.00 dollars.

Stocks witness slightly recovery at KSE

Pakistani stocks ended higher on Wednesday, led by sharp gains in banking shares amid expectations of healthy financial results, and dealerspredicted the market would remain steady in coming days.
The Karachi Stock Exchange's benchmark 100-share index ended 0.32 percent, or 37.97 points, higher at11,886.02. Volume was 99.78 million shares compared with 110million shares traded on Tuesday.
Most of the leading banks have been performing well in recent weeks and we expect investor interest in the sector to continue as banks are expected to report healthy full-year results next month, dealers said.
On Wednesday, Bank Alfalah, United Bank Ltd (UBL) and Allied Bank all closed at their upper locks, or 5 percent higher. Other banks also posted gains.
An announcement by the Abu Dhabi Group that it has agreed to sell a 20 percent stake in UBL to Bestway (Holding) Ltd at an undisclosed price also fuelled interest in the lender.
Zakaria said investor interest was also witnessed in oil stocks, in anticipation of an expected rise in retail fuel prices later this week.

Taxing wealth would be unproductive?

Pakistan has a very low rate of tax collection to GDP ratio which hovers around 9 percent and is among the lowest in the region. Currently, only 2.75 million Pakistanis or 1.6 percent of the country's population, are registered tax-payers. Out of these, only around two million people file their tax returns. If salaried class is excluded, the share of other categories as taxpayers is very little. In India, the share of taxpayers to population is 4.7 percent.
That too is not a very satisfactory ratio, but if we take India as an example due to its similarity of culture, we should have around 7.5 million taxpayers in Pakistan. There is a room to widen the tax net by at least another five million tax assesses. It remains government's wish to expand tax net but unfortunately, the desired wish could not be materialised due to outdated and conventional tax collection policies and indifference attitude of tax collection agencies.
Whenever revenue collection falls short of its budgetary targets, the existing taxpayers are treated with excessive tax demands through amending their tax assessments and new ways are found to tax them. This was evident from the newly introduced Capital Gains tax during the current fiscal year. In fact no serious efforts were made to widen the tax base through sound, effective and transparent policies.
Instead, efforts were diverted to increase direct tax collection from the existing taxpayers. This resulted in over-milking the existing taxpayers without realising that it would be unproductive and all sort of legal or illegal ways would be adopted to avoid additional and excessive tax liability. That is why, FBR is under serious criticism that over 500 billion rupees leakage of revenue exists within the system itself through unfair practices by its officials.
During the last budgetary proposals for the fiscal year 2010-11, demands were raised to tax capital gains on shares and leaving capital gains tax on sale and purchase of land exempt. The objective was to collect more taxes from the wealthy investors, as it was thought that the imposition of this new tax would reduce the tax collection gap and improve our ratio of tax collection to GDP.
It was a sentimental decision. No one ever thought how it will be implemented? What would be the size of additional tax collection and what would be the rules of capital gains tax that should be followed by the taxpayers to compute their tax liability? As a result, capital gains tax was imposed in haste without any rules in place.

It is almost six months now that Federal Board of Revenue (FBR) is still struggling to finalise the Capital Gains Tax rules under which the tax liability has to be computed. FBR did not do its home work properly when the new capital gains tax on shares was imposed. We have not witnessed this type of gross negligence in any other tax regime, where tax has been imposed without first putting in place detailed rules for taxpayer's guidance.
The fiscal year 2010-11 projected revenue based upon 657.7 billion rupees as direct taxes and 1.12 trillion rupees as indirect taxes. Currently, to achieve these targets seem difficult. The latest estimates released indicate that the fiscal deficit for the current fiscal year may go up by 7.5 percent, around 2.8 percent higher than the target agreed with International Monetary Fund (IMF).
This indicates that the gap between tax collection and government expenditure is growing gradually. So far no study has been conducted to identify reasons of this growing gap. Is it because of lesser economic activity or lack of trust in government or its tax collecting agencies? It may also be a cause of government's spending habits where a sizeable portion of tax collection is wasted on lavish spending, unnecessary security measures for officials and careless use of government provided transport to its employees, and officials.
On IMF dictation, the government was prompted to impose (Reformed General Sales Tax) RGST as one of the conditionality for its funding programme to enlarge the tax net. Additional tax collection through whatever source seems easier for the government rather than improving the existing tax collection system. Growth in national economy should also enlarge tax collection base easily by concentrating on business-friendly policies and building trust and confidence through austerity measures in government spending.
Extreme steps are taken either by being very liberal and accepting all self-assessed income from the assessee without asking any question or we start milking the existing taxpayers through re-assessments and new taxes.
These extreme steps are viewed as unproductive and affect the transparent system, thereby shaking the taxpayer's confidence. Therefore, the proposed legislation of RGST met severe opposition throughout the country and demand was made from those opposing the implementation of RGST that rich class should be taxed by taxing their wealth to reduce the income and expenditure gap without looking at its previous history.
The wealth tax was abolished in 2002. Since its abolition, it is estimated that the declared economic assets of taxpayers have almost gone up by at least five times during the last eight years. This indicates that wealth tax resulted in non-declaration of assets and its undervaluation when the wealth tax regime was in place.
Several disputes arose as to the type of assets that attracted wealth tax and its valuation for wealth tax purposes. To determine an acceptable valuation for wealth tax liability, wide discretionary powers were given to the wealth tax officers responsible to assess the wealth tax.
This gave birth to serious corrupt practices within the tax administrative system and more money went into the wealth tax officer's pockets than collected by the government under this system. Consequently the annual collection remained far below 1 to 1.5 billion rupees annually under this head, which was uneconomical for the exchequer. Even if it is five-time of the previous size, its adverse impact in future years would offset this meagre collection.
The very concept of taxing wealth is regarded as double taxation in our society as the wealth is accumulated out of income that was already taxed. Therefore, wealth tax imposition is considered punitive in nature that hinders economic growth, an important requisite for economic development.
Imposition of wealth tax due to its punitive nature is regarded as one of the major reasons of flight of capital to other tax haven regimes that retarded our economic growth for several years. This can be witnessed in developed countries where wealth tax did not exist but there was consistent economic growth in those economies.
It also results in serious corrupt practices in tax assessment system where vast discretion exists with the assessing authorities for valuation of taxable wealth. Therefore, it is suggested that the government should not yield under pressure to impose wealth tax without studying its negative results upon our economic growth in coming years.
There is an urgent need to redouble tax collection efforts by examining some alternative sources of revenue that includes other sectors that are still not taxed. Income from agriculture has so far remained untaxed. Agricultural sector that contributes over 20 percent of Pakistan's total GDP and employs over 40 percent of population has remained untaxed since long.
This is a large sector that should not be excluded from the tax net for whatever reasons. Unless this sector is gradually brought into the tax net, all efforts to tax the existing taxpayers whether they are small, medium or large would be unproductive and would not generate enough revenues to fill the growing gap and would not enlarge tax base.
Taxing agricultural income should have a moral impact upon other non-taxpaying classes to pay their taxes. If a sector that comprises 40 percent of population remains untaxed, we should not expect that the tax net would be enlarged and country's economy would grow.

Vian influenza virus H9 - the next candidate for future pandemic

Avian influenza is the most important historical viral infection in poultry industry causing huge economic losses. Ducks act as natural host while the virus can be transmitted from these natural hosts to highly prone species such as chickens and turkeys.
A specialised feature of influenza viruses is that they can emerge as novel subtype due to special characteristic of "mutation", thus are capable to produce disease in large population throughout the world. Avian influenza viruses (AIV) are placed in the family of orthomyxoviridae which consists three influenza genera named as A, B and C. Influenza viruses which are responsible for infections in birds, belongs to genus influenza virus A. AIV are well known to produce two different types of diseases in domestic poultry birds on the bases of their virulence and pathogenicity. Due to this unique characteristic, the viruses are classified into two types known as a highly pathogenic avian influenza virus (HPAIV) and a low pathogenic avian influenza virus (LPAIV). HPAIV are responsible for rapid and fatal systemic infection inducing mortality upto 100% especially in broilers, layers and breeders while LPAIV produce asymptomatic infection.
All HPAI viruses belong to H5 and H7 while all other subtypes including H9 are non pathogenic in nature. H9 viruses were first time reported in Pakistan in 1999, but are now endemic in poultry industry in Pakistan causing 5-30% mortality in field conditions. Interestingly under experimental conditions these viruses do not produce any disease. Possible factor associated with this elevated mortality is the involvement of secondary pathogens. The main pathogens involved in coinfection are Mycoplasma gallisepticum and pathogenic Escherichia coli while immunosuppression is another important factor. Another momentous feature of H9N2 viruses is that they are capable to cross transmission barriers existing between different species and can produce infection in human beings and in other mammalian species.
The genetic sequence of these viruses has 98% homology with the genetic sequence of H9N2 isolates recovered from children in Hong Kong. These findings indicate that these subtypes pose a similar threat as H5 viruses to human population. Keeping in view the importance of the disease the author designed a project at University of Veterinary and Animal sciences Lahore to reproduce disease as observed in field conditions and to study pathogenicity of H9 virus coinfection with Mycoplasma and E. coli infection and under immunosuppressive condition in broiler chickens and to asses its zoonotic potential in human beings.
In first part of study, H9 virus, Mycoplasma gallisepticum and E. coli were isolated and experimental inocula of each were prepared. In second part, pathogenesis of H9 virus was carried out under controlled environmental conditions. The virus prevailing in Pakistan was found non pathogenic with Intravenous Pathogenicity Index (IVPI) 0.12/3, produced significant reduction in body weight and had tissue tropism for kidney and respiratory system. Immunohistochemical detection of viral antigen and rapid molecular detection of virus from tissues by using Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) revealed that RT-PCR is more efficient method than immunohistochemistry.

The pathogenicity of H9 virus was also studied along with coinfection of secondary pathogens such as Mycoplasma gallisepticum and E. coli and in chemically induced immunosuppressive condition. It was found that E. coli and Mycoplasma gallisepticum induced exacerbation in pathogenicity and caused mortality 40% and 25% respectively, while under immunosuppressive condition only 5% mortality was observed.
In third part, it was intended to determine zoonotic potential of H9 virus infection among human beings working in close association to poultry industry by a serological survey. From this project, it seems reasonable to conclude that virus H9 prevailing in poultry industry in Pakistan belongs to non pathogenic Asian sublineage which did not produced mortality but produced significant reduction in weight gain of infected birds. Its pathogenicity is aggravated due to presence of secondary pathogens such as coinfection with E. coli and Mycoplasma gallisepticum. On the bases of serological study it is found that virus has potential to produce infections in human beings and this indicates that virus could be a candidate for future pandemic.

Public service in Pakistan

Richard Holbrooke died after major surgery. Most Pakistanis know him for being the person in charge of the US policy in AfPak. Holbrooke had a long history in US diplomacy, his highest position in the US diplomatic hierarchy being his appointment as the US ambassador to the United Nations (UN). He never attained the one position that he probably deserved and wanted most, that of being the US Secretary of State (foreign minister) losing out to two women, first Madeleine Albright and more recently to Hillary Clinton.
Ambassador Holbrooke represents the best in the American tradition of public service, people who have made enough money in business and yet return to serve the country. The US has a long history of such people, and even if we exclude those who use their wealth to run for elective office, there are still many who choose to work in the appointed bureaucracy or as diplomats.
Joseph Kennedy, the father of President Kennedy, was the US ambassador in the UK before World War II. Averell Harriman, an heir to a railroad fortune, served as a Secretary of Commerce and as a diplomat, William Scranton, whose family has a town named after them in Pennsylvania, served as US ambassador to the UN. The first President Bush who became a millionaire by the age of 40 subsequently served as the US ambassador to the UN and then China and also as the head of the CIA. Excluding some career politicians, most secretaries are taken from the private sector.
The US system is different from the UK system that we have inherited. In the US, members of the top tiers of the federal bureaucracy are political appointees and not career civil servants. The secretary who is equivalent to a federal minister in our system and other senior bureaucrats are all appointed by the president from members of the business community, think tanks or academia, but they have to be approved by the US Senate. Most ambassadors are career foreign service officers but the president can appoint anybody he wishes as an ambassador and he often does in particular positions.
Many of my American friends who had done well in business had the same desire. They wanted to work in any government position where they could use their expertise to help the country. As a matter of fact, my oldest son and his wife hope that some day they will be in a position to do the same. With their last name they might have a problem but having a president of the US with the same middle name they might have a shot at getting there.
In the history of Pakistan, independently wealthy figures often embodied a similar sense of public service. Even today, two of the most important people in Pakistani politics, the president of Pakistan as well as the leader of the major opposition political party, are both independently wealthy and yet devote their time to public service. However, once we exclude the heads of Pakistani political parties and ‘hereditary’ politicians, we find very few independently wealthy people going on to work in government.
Perhaps a major reason why successful Pakistani businessmen do not participate in government is that before taking on any important position they first have to win an election, either to the Senate, the National Assembly or else one of the provincial assemblies. As far as the senior bureaucracy is concerned, this is obviously staffed only by members of the permanent bureaucracy.
In essence there is very little crossover from the private to the public sector and not because of a lack of desire but rather the difficulty of first winning an election. Many of the successful business families in Pakistan often have a member of the ‘clan’ run for elective office. The purpose is to participate in government as an ‘insurance’ policy to safeguard the business interests of the family involved and more importantly to guarantee prospects for growth of the family business. This is then clearly not something that either improves the quality of governance or decreases the amount of corruption.
Obviously not all people who enter politics in Pakistan do so to become richer and all career bureaucrats are definitely not incompetent or venal. However, it would be an important addition to the pool of competent managers if successful people from the private sector could be inducted directly into the senior bureaucracy. Already we have the idea of lateral entry into the bureaucracy, so why not add to it the idea of direct induction of people from the private sector for a limited duration. And of course if such appointees do not perform adequately, they can always be sent home, unlike members of the permanent bureaucracy.
Induction of people who have already ‘made it’ in the private sector to run technical parts of the federal and provincial bureaucracies will, in my opinion, add to the quality of ‘governance’. It will also decrease the amount of corruption that is seen because of the relatively low compensation available in government service. Well-off outsiders will obviously be resistant to the lure of ‘filthy lucre’. The desire to serve is present among many in our business community but there are no venues available for them to pursue this desire other than first contesting an election.
More importantly, the idea that a general cadre bureaucrat can really understand the intricacies of a technical department is no longer valid in the modern world of advanced specialisation. How can somebody who has little knowledge of the intricacies of what a particular department oversees actually run such a department effectively? And by the time these bureaucrats actually get around to learning about what exactly goes on, it is time for them to move on to another posting.
It is perhaps time to bring down the wall that exists between the private and the public sector if we want to improve the quality of governance and control corruption.

Artificial ingenuity

It is a cosmetic world. Emotions, feelings and actions are designed for a predetermined end in mind, i.e. to create the effect of a selfless purpose, develop a special aura by saying all the right things and displaying all the correct expressions only to give way to a reality that reveals a shocking plethora of lies and deception. With so many theatrical effects present at every level of this global village, be it personal, professional or political, it is extremely challenging to distinguish true from false and genuine from fake. As the world becomes wealthier, more technologically advanced and more aggressively competitive, it has witnessed more discontent, disillusionment and disturbance than before. The reason being a sad loss of prioritisation of what is and is not important, a mad race to grab fame and fortune in the shortest possible time, and a complete disregard for the values and principles on which humanity anchors itself.
The global corruption survey 2010 has shown how uncertain and unethical this world is. From developed to underdeveloped countries, the ability to be clean and genuine has become an outdated phenomenon. The level of trust in institutions, individuals and leaders is at an all time low. The normal perception used to be that the developed western countries have a relatively above board style of living and leading while the lesser-developed countries are the ones where the corruption epidemic had infiltrated every aspect of life. The global survey shows that views on an increase in corruption were most dramatic in Western Europe and North America, where 73 percent and 67 percent people respectively believed that corruption has been on the rise in the last three years. The post-recession period has really tested the mettle of organisations and institutions in the western world. Many organisations that were symbols of integrity turned out to have shallow plastic veneers of skin-deep cleanliness hiding under them years of discrepancy in words and deeds, robbing millions of stakeholders of their investments. Big names like Citibank, General Motors, Freddie Mac and Lehman Brothers were all found guilty of hiding, inflating and misreporting the true state of their affairs to keep on playing with other people’s money.
With this state of affairs of trust in organisations, trust in political leadership is also at an all time low in the world. Eight out of ten people in the west say that political parties are extremely corrupt and find the government’s attempts to curb corruption totally ineffective. From scandals on the Italian prime minister to the French president’s corrupt global deals, the story remains of exploitation and misappropriations. For emerging powers, the story is no different. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who has had a clean image so far, is also under investigation for letting corruption worth $ 40 billion take place in the telecom industry. The fact that he did not personally have a stake in this loot does not absolve him of his ability to overlook the corruption of such a huge amount just because the minister of telecom was an important coalition partner in the game of his party’s power hold in the government.

Thus, corruption has multiple faces. The most obvious one is of bribes and payoffs in cash or kind. These are the most quantifiable, traceable and thus punishable. The more not so obvious ones are use and abuse of power to speed up contracts, appoint your own favoured officials, create harassment for your unfavoured and opposing forces, make contract conditions biased towards a particular party and look the other way at deviants as long as they serve your interest. Corruption of a more subtle kind also includes displaying hypocritical simplicity to create a false impression of modesty while inwardly supporting ostentatious behaviour, pretending to take a principled stance to gain popular support but actually just enhancing blackmailing power, becoming humble and self deprecating in agreement with opposing forces while really looking down at all those in disagreement with your way of thinking. With this expanded definition of corruption that includes not only financial corruption, but interpersonal and intellectual corruption as well, I think most of us will find it very hard not to be found guilty.
The global corruption survey has also pointed out that corruption in Pakistan has increased alarmingly. The most corrupt of services has been the police, scoring 4.5 out of a maximum of 5, followed by civil servants at 4.1, while equally corrupt are the politicians and parliamentarians. The institutions that have fared better are the judiciary, media and military. The surprise pick of this survey has been the religious parties who are perceived as the least corrupt. This is perhaps due to the limited definition of corruption used in the corruption barometer. If the definition were to include intellectual corruption of hiding the real intention of using religion for gaining power and misleading the public for personal gain, these religious parties would score higher. A prime example is the extreme opposition to repealing the Blasphemy Law by the religious factions, not because they love religion but because they hate opposition to their own interpretation of Islam. Another example is the recent segregation of the JUI-F from the ruling party on removal of their minister who was throwing accusations of corruption at another government minister. The real reason may not be their angst at the government not bringing the real culprit to court but just flexing their political muscle to exploit the weak position of the government to gain even more political favour from the tottering government.
Thus, corruption may be a global phenomenon but its impact on poor countries is much harder when compared with more developed countries. The poor, who have no access to law and justice, merit and fair play, find themselves edged out by the rich who get things done instantly either through cash or connections. The poor are pushed back in queues, harassed by civil servants, denied by public institutions and humiliated by the rich due to a system where the will of the powerful stampedes the powerless. Such societies, impregnated with might ruling right, inevitably kill hope, creativity and positivity and become breeding grounds of cynicism, apathy and disbelief. It is the deafening silence of people who can do something about this disintegration of the social fabric but choose not to that leaves ground for those who are corrupt to the core to have an open field. Remember the perception of a less corrupt judiciary was started with one action by one man, and thus, it is the ability of each one of us to take that one small step that can eventually make a big difference — history proves that all change is a matter of that one step by one ordinary man on the one untravelled road.


Karl Marx proclaimed that a “spectre was haunting Europe”. But it took decades before the spectre of socialism became a reality in the form of the Soviet Union. Today, a cyber spectre haunts us. We better be alert to it because we do not have decades to wait.
Cyber war, computer hacking and the information revolution are well worn and even hackneyed terms. The cyber attack against Estonia several years ago demonstrated how damaging hacking can be regardless of the source. In the US, the Pentagon reports large numbers of daily attempts to hack into or interfere with the Department of Defence’s computer and information systems. Conceivably, a 10-year-old computer whiz can be as or more destructive than the government’s best expert in employing cyberspace for sport, gain or ideological purposes. So, what is new and what should concern us? WikiLeaks sounds the alarm.
Pointedly coincident with the 69th anniversary of Japan’s surprise attack against US forces stationed at Pearl Harbour was WikiLeaks’ release of some 250,000 classified and sensitive US diplomatic cables from around the world. Months ago, WikiLeaks dumped tens of thousands of official US communications on Iraq and Afghanistan. Predictably, a media firestorm was provoked by the latest releases, especially in Pakistan where real political damage was done by disclosing candid and often unfavourable assessments of its government officials.
Yet, this spectre could be a 21st century equivalent of Pearl Harbour in which the strategic centre of gravity is not battleship row but the vulnerability of all governments to information and weapons of choice, not bombers and torpedo planes but the Internet and cyber space.
This particular cyber onslaught used information as a weapon of media destruction. Stunningly, subsequent retaliation by an independent network of as many as 10,000 hackers ideologically disposed to help WikiLeaks against servers, operated by major corporations that halted access to these releases, occurred. The combination could be the precursor of 21st century informational global conflicts and a jump to fifth or sixth generational warfare in which a huge corpus of invisible allies await the opportunity to join a cyber insurgency as Internet warriors.
Suppose, for example, a WikiLeaks copycat attack went after national electrical grids, the banking system, air traffic control or some other weakness. Then, suppose that attack was joined by anonymous hackers in the thousands compounding the damage. Wow!
These leaks illuminate and magnify the hugely difficult issues inherent in countering cyber warfare as a political weapon and in knowing how to react, prevent, regulate, hold accountable and indeed know when the use of information constitutes an act of war or a crime punishable under domestic or international law. If the US has to rely on the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute WikiLeaks, clearly we are far from prepared to deal with the cyber challenges of the 21st century.
The latest releases were far more revealing, embarrassing and indeed potentially dangerous in exposing individual identities and secret military information on sensitive and vulnerable installations than the earlier ones. Further releases are likely. WikiLeaks and its fellow travellers assert their aim is not to punish but a more benign and benighted goal to expose the perfidy of governments.
My colleague and close friend, Arnaud de Borchgrave, has already done important investigative work in analysing the history and intent of WikiLeaks’ founder Julian Assange to harm the US arising from a left wing orientation and intense dislike of American democracy. The alleged source of these leaks, a US Army private, leaves observers dumbfounded as to how American security could be so incompetent as to permit these thefts in the first place and then fail to realise that they had happened.
Of course, overreaction is possible in predicting future consequences and in attempting to punish Mr Assange and his comrades. On the other hand, as the war has shifted from armies, navies and air forces battling like adversaries to what we are seeing in Afghanistan, the interconnectivity and dependence of so much global commerce and interaction on electrons and the Internet produce potential vulnerabilities in the extreme. So far, while prodigious amounts of rhetoric have described these potential dangers, little progress has been made in producing a strategic, legal and political framework for dealing with the likes of Mr Assange and even more pernicious characters such as cyber savvy terrorists and religious extremists.
WikiLeaks has been a setback for the US and other governments. The worst of WikiLeaks may be over for Pakistan. Governments will recover from the exposure of candid and sensitive exchanges among senior officials about opposite numbers. But taking down the power grid or financial system is a far different matter. Www.worldwar5.0 is the new danger. Who will rise to meet it is the challenge, not merely for the US but for all democracies, including Pakistan.

Democracy in Africa

In the 1990s, the peoples of sub-Saharan Africa — a region that comprises more than 40 states — attempted to shake off autocratic rulers, some of whom had been in power since the former European colonies gained independence in the 1960s. However, representative democracy remained an elusive goal for most countries because of historical, social and cultural, i.e. structural problems. The entrenched autocracies and dictatorships were only outward manifestations of a much deeper ailment that pertained, primarily, to the way African society was organised. Trying to impose democratic institutions on pre-modern, economically backward and multicultural societies failed because the obstacles to empowerment of the people were structural. Structural problems have no quick fixes; they can only be remedied through long-term reforms.
In What Went Wrong with Africa, Roel Van Der Veen focuses on the causes of poverty, bad governance, dictatorship, corruption and disintegration of the sub-Saharan African states but his analysis is relevant to most underdeveloped former colonial states.
Thirty sub-Saharan African countries gained independence around 1960. Since World War II, colonial powers had allowed political parties to exist in the hope that it would mitigate the growing resentment against colonial rule. Political parties soon became ardent voices of nationalism and most African states achieved independence by 1960. The new political elite that came into power in the African countries “lacked any real power base within African society and owed their position purely to their links with former colonial powers”. Moreover, the new African military and bureaucratic elite had no independent sources of income other than from the positions acquired in the bureaucracies. This new and immature ruling class used state power to enrich themselves. In order to perpetuate their rule, the new African aristocracy created patron-client networks. Patrons were always in possession of state resources and could grant favours to clients who became their staunch supporters. Others, constituting the majority in fact, who could not be brought under patronage, were forced into acquiescence of the rule of the few through oppression.
The biggest structural hurdle in the development of representative democracy was the patron-client network. Clientelism by its nature is antithetical to the development of democracy because it sustains a corrupt elite in power. Clients tend to ignore the corruption and misrule of their patrons, thus rendering the rulers unaccountable and without accountability there can be no democracy. In fact, accountability of the rulers to the governed is the foundation of not only democracy but also any form of just government. Clientelism also encourages conformity, which means that individuals cannot think for themselves and fail to form independent opinions.
The extended family is a major pillar of clientelism. Family members who occupy senior government positions commit the most invidious form of corruption by placing incompetent kin in responsible positions. Such favours granted mostly along ethnic lines result in certain ethnicities becoming entrenched in public and private institutions. In Africa, such conduct was widely accepted and became difficult to eradicate.
Ethnicisation of politics was another impediment in the way of democracy. Most African states were composed of a patchwork of ethnicities. Lacking homogeneous populations and uniformity in terms of language, culture and religion, African politics came to be characterised by ethnic political parties. Political parties were organised around individuals and supported by specific ethnic groups. Given the limited economic diversification of the countries, the ideological differences between the parties were small. Party leaders were supposed to use their political power to take care of their own. Such parties often fuelled ethnic tensions and brought group differences into sharp relief. A few countries prohibited formation of political parties along ethnic lines so as to promote emergence of national parties while other parties that started their political life as national parties splintered along ethnic lines. However, ethnicised political parties are not necessarily an impediment to democratic progress. Such is the case when power-sharing agreements can be reached through compromise.
Lack of civilian control of the army in many African countries was also an obstacle to the development of democracy. Politicisation of the army was more pronounced in countries most directly affected by the Cold War. In such countries, national security became the overriding concern and military intervention in politics often started initially to secure sufficient funds but later extended to almost all facets of national politics. However, legitimacy — of sorts — was always on the side of the politicians and they often used it as a bargaining chip “to reach some kind of settlement with the armed forces, a settlement that offered both groups the advantages of exploiting the state”.
Low levels of socio-economic development in most African countries were a major structural problem in the way of stable democracies. At a minimum, a modest level of education, income and tax collection is a prerequisite for democracy. With low levels of economic development and taxation, governments often had to resort to foreign loans to cover budget deficits with the result that large donors often became “external parliaments”. In relatively healthy economies, where opportunities were available to make money outside of the state bureaucracies, grabbing state power for personal benefit was less prevalent but the opposite was true in the weaker economies and weak economies were the rule rather than the exception in Africa. Moreover, democracy works best if society as a whole is above survival mode economically. Better socio-economic conditions also help by making populations less dependent on patrons.
Low levels and low standards of education often meant an inadequate understanding of development issues, an inability to choose representatives responsibly, and little respect for human rights. In some cases the people handed over power to dictators of their own free will and in many others corrupt politicians were re-elected again and again because corruption was so pervasive that it became acceptable and institutionalised. Since education emancipates and enables people to think independently, a link possibly, though not definitely, exists between education and democracy.
Although the above does not constitute a comprehensive list of the structural factors that foiled the drive toward greater democratisation in Africa, it is nonetheless instructive because it does delineate the major factors that caused the failure and led to state collapse and disintegration in some cases.