Tuesday, February 02, 2010, Safar 17, 1431 A.H   ISSN 1563-9479
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Opinion Archive
The News International Pakistan

 Get on with it!
By Ayesha Ijaz Khan
A year ago, many of us had called for Musharraf's impeachment. My article, "Beyond Busharraf" (Aug 23, 2008) demanded exactly that. But instead of the Parliament holding him accountable for his wrongdoing, he was sent off with honours, in style. A year on, when he has safely left the country, both our ruling and opposition parliamentarians are happy to talk about the need to prosecute him. What a joke!

Had he been impeached in August 2008, accountability would have been timely and it would have sent a strong signal to the army not to meddle in civilian affairs in future, not to mention strengthened a newly elected democratic government and ushered in a new era of hope. But the opportunity was lost.

Talking about how to nab Musharraf now is nothing more than a diversionary tactic by the ruling elites, who either do not know how, or do not care, to deliver what the people need. This is not to say that the military should be running the country. It most certainly should not. But unless the Parliament strengthens itself, heeds criticism and acts on it, there is little hope for sustained democracy. Instead, the vacuum created by the inaction of one state institution is bound to be filled by other institutions that are looking to improve their image and capacity.

Unable to establish the credibility of their own institution, previously, politicians were criticised for pleading their cases to the military. Today, it appears they are pleading their case to the judiciary. Let me illustrate with an example. Load shedding is a matter of immediate and most pressing concern to all Pakistanis. A few days ago, the issue was taken up on "Bolta Pakistan." Khwaja Asif called in and made a few allegations regarding the non-transparent and nepotistic style in which rental power projects were being awarded, and named one businessman as a key culprit. To the businessman's credit, he called in immediately and wanted to present his side of the story. Unlike Musharraf, Shaukat Aziz, and perhaps many others who ignore allegations made against them in the press, Mr Eqbal Z Ahmed was humble enough to submit himself to questioning.

Mushtaq Minhas and Nusrat Javed promptly set up a date to take the views of the opposing sides. Both gentlemen were given the assurance that a special show would be dedicated to the issue of whether Mr Ahmed's rental power projects were financially efficient or not. Let me say, at the outset, that ideally the media is not the correct forum to be discussing this, but in the absence of a functioning and transparent Parliament, the media will step in to fill the gap and people will be grateful to it. I too was looking forward to this show because I felt that a parliamentarian of Khwaja Asif's calibre will have much to question Mr Ahmed about and, as a viewer, I would have much to learn.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Khwaja Asif was entirely unprepared. He had not researched the issue and the softball questions that he asked were adequately answered by Mr Ahmed. And because the line of questioning left much to be desired, I am not convinced that Mr Ahmed's side of the story is the correct one, but I must say, nevertheless, that he was more impressive in his arguments than Khwaja Asif. When frustrated by his own lack of research on this very important subject, Khwaja Asif simply ended by saying that he will want the Supreme Court to take suo moto action on this.

This is not a matter for the Supreme Court. This is precisely the type of work the Parliament should be engaged in. In fact, prior to awarding the contracts for rental power, Parliament must discuss and set standards for the industry and vetting methods for prospective investors. If there are concerns about misappropriation, mismanagement and/or nepotism, those too must be dealt with in a parliamentary hearing and investors about whom such concerns are raised, should be summoned to the Parliament for questioning. Experts like Dr Farrukh Saleem can also be called in to testify so that Parliament is better informed. And here is another suggestion. Instead of fighting these issues out on talk shows, how about turning PTV into an American-style C-SPAN? Thus, parliamentary hearings would be broadcast live and available for all to see on television. Discussions on important issues then would not be limited to one-hour time slots but could go on for days, leading to greater transparency and lasting solutions.

Although Wall Street and big business in America wield a fair bit of power, the mere thought of facing Congress sends shivers down the spines of many a powerful man. But that is only possible if the elected representatives take parliamentary oversight of important national matters seriously, and do not abdicate their responsibility to other institutions of state. Elections are over. And we all know that many of our politicians are perfectly good at making fiery speeches. But where are the blueprints for alternative taxation plans? It is easy to protest the idea of regressive taxation on the street and play with the emotions of those who are bearing the brunt of the economic crisis, but what the opposition really needs to do is to come up with viable alternatives.

Musharraf is in London because he is a fugitive of law. But what are the rest of the serving parliamentarians doing here? Don't they have important business to attend in Pakistan? Shouldn't they be working day and night to come up with a plan to relieve our crippled economy of its lethal circular debt? Isn't it time to just get on with it?

The writer is a lawyer-turned-political commentator based in London. www.ayeshaijazkhan.com

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