INSIGHT AND FORESIGHT

June 22, 2015

BEAKING THE NEWS

Filed under: Uncategorized — sharafs @ 6:07 am

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This week’s headlines in Pakistan will be remembered for wrong reasons. The nature of breaking the news has eclipsed realities. Local body elections in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KPK), inauguration of a yet to complete metro bus project in Rawalpindi-Islamabad, India’s aggressive tirades, the defence establishments frustration with the slow pace of operations against militancy in Karachi and finance ministers insistence that despite negative indicators, Pakistan is on way to sustainable progress are a few headlines. Whatever the truth, each reflects the lack of capacity and institutional building in our political parties. It also indicates that whatever remains is under seige.

The local government elections in KPK registered a defining moment in Pakistan’s chequered history of local self-government. It transfers powers to local representatives down to village level. Over 30% of development funds will be controlled by the civil society. This is a paradigm shift and like all things original threaten status quo. In due course it will be subjected to criticism, delays, organisational frictions and absence of an enabling mechanism. The mechanics of reorganising the existing administrative structure to the new organogram will prove to be a testing ground of KPK Government’s ability to deliver. The system for the first time in Pakistan’s democratic history departs from the Legislative Act of 1935 where Viceroy’s control at every tier of governance was mandatory. Other provinces and vested interests have not followed suite, do not like it and try discrediting it.

The manner in which these elections were conducted leaves no room for scapegoats. Both the KPK government and Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) must share blame for mismanagement of a landmark event and making it contentious.

KPK government had done little homework on the execution of the project. An appraisal of likely hindrances and counter-plans was missing. Had the provincial chief minister, concerned ministries and civil administration deliberated on the brass-tacks during in-house discussions, their coordination with ECP would have been better. The entire exercise at a paradigm shift warranted was marred by the absence of a matching willpower. The political and civil administration never switched gears. A right and noble intention of Imran Khan the philanthropist was made to look wicked.

The flak that ECP took after 2013 elections should have resulted in a renewed vigour. Its absence was apparent in its ignorance that simplified the process. Its staff had neither grasped nor assimilated the enormity, complications and complexity of the challenges. They never realised they were out to make history in self-governance.  Most they were unfamiliar with the wide canvas of change and neither internalised it nor seemed willing to become part of the change.

The provincial government kept sleeping over the rumours of plans to disrupt and make these elections controversial. These allegations and disruptions will get fiercer. Opposition political parties achieved multiple objectives. First, they discredited Imran Khan and secondly shielded themselves from not replicating this system in other provinces while still clinging to strong political and bureaucratic controls of status quo.

Transfer of powers from District and Tehsil administration involving over thirty subjects is a colossal task riddled with challenges and mal-intent. To ensure that the paradigm shift is affected without further hiccups and least teething problems, Imran Khan the politician cum philanthropist will have to act as a project director to get his team to deliver. This includes healing internal wounds and parrying off sword brandishing opposition.

The Rawalpindi-Islamabad metro project stands inaugurated though incomplete. What is the hurry when there are many more compelling and time sensitive challenges?  The 500 Million dollar project will benefit around 600,000 commuter trips during the day. In contrast IDPs languish as squatters due to lack of funds. People in Karachi due to lack of potable water are at the mercy of hydrant mafia. Punjab, the country’s most dense area of arsenic poisoning lacks proper potable water facilities. Hospitals lack sufficient beds and live saving drugs. The rising circular debt keeps bringing industries to a shutdown. The nation is being forced to survive on fairy tale projects. Unemployment had increases, agriculture rescinded and exports fallen. Why the government is hell-bent on completing Wi-Fi projects in major urban centres when majority of people in rural areas lack minimum basic facilities? Where are the national priorities and who sets them?

Where is the urge and will power? The military fighting the biggest war against terrorism in recorded history is starved of funding. Military operations are being conducted in a void. There is no counter terrorism policy to back the armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Operations in Punjab have yet to begin. Karachi continues to bleed due to an unholy mix of local politics, armed political parties, ethnic and sectarian fault lines and terrorism. Why do the rulers not comprehend that the country is fighting a multi-dimensional war that needs to be won on emergent footing? In all probability, all have coalesced to bleed the army.  But then a nuclear Pakistan needs a strong army to survive. With the army defeated, there will be instability and disintegration. The argument of total civilian supremacy actually means there will be no Pakistan.

The way political parties behave indicates a complete absence of informed thought, debates and intellectual frameworks. Not a single party has so far spoken about the absence of a national counter terrorism policy. All operate on adhocracy and whims. In KPK provincial leaders failed to internalise the vision of its leader. In Karachi some political parties oppose operations because they have stakes in the existing system. Parties equating CPEC with Kalabagh Dam are overly aggressive towards the country. The federal government is Punjab centric. No party has questioned the intentions of the Sindh government in dragging its feet on the lignite coal projects. Where are cash rich indigenous projects?

In this age of riding airwaves and breaking news, the media has to shoulder the biggest responsibility. It has to keep the people informed of the multi-dimensional threats to Pakistan and not ‘Break the News’ in the literal sense. It has to discover and expose those subtle designs and recognise those aggressive pincers that threaten the country. Editorial boards have to work overtime at Threat Perception and work in the best interests of the country and its people. They also have to impose checks on programme contents that spin a yarn beyond its realities.

The urge to be in Breaking News distorts realities; it beaks the news into unrecognisable jargon.

Brigadier (Retired) Samson Simon Sharaf is a political economist and a television anchorperson.

Email and twitter: samson.sharaf@gmail.com

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