No legs to stand on

Published: March 31, 2012

The writer is executive director special projects at ARY News and was previously director news at Dunya TV (2010-11) and Express News (2006-2010). He can be reached on Twitter @fahdhusain

Democracy pays dividends. But not in Balochistan.

Forget militancy, forget target killings, forget sectarian mayhem, forget even tribal vendettas and feudal bloodletting, just look at the shenanigans of the elected representatives in Balochistan and your democratic idealism will experience a nuclear evisceration.

Mine did after spending a few days in Quetta. There is one word to describe what is happening here in the name of democracy: farce. Strong word? Wait till you hear what’s on the democratic menu: nepotism, check. Incompetence, double check. Corruption, triple check. Compared to the government here, the one in Islamabad seems like an embodiment of Churchillian brilliance. And that’s putting it mildly.

So here I am sitting with the speaker of the Balochistan Assembly and he tells me matter-of-factly there are no standing committees in the assembly. “Say what?” I do a double-take. Aslam Bhootani, the Speaker, is an affable man with a forthcoming nature. A former civil servant, he dived into politics a decade ago and now says he’s had enough. He hails from Lasbela, two hours drive from Karachi, which perhaps explains his urbane demeanour.

“Er…so if you don’t have standing committees, how do you do legislation?” I asked innocently, expecting some technical explanation. Fat chance. “We introduce a bill on the floor, vote on it, and it’s done,” says Bhootani.

Later in the day, I made enquiries. Here’s what I found out: Almost all bills originate from the bureaucracy. They are then sent to the cabinet where few bother to read them and just pass it. That done, the bill moves to parliament. The ministers have no idea because they haven’t read it, even though they have technically passed it. Now someone has to read the bill aloud on the floor of the assembly. The ministers are not bothered. They have to be chased, begged and cajoled to present the bill. Some poor minister finally accedes to the request, but not before saying he won’t do it the next time. The bill is read, then a voice vote is taken, and it’s done. A law has been made, but the elected reps are mostly clueless. Often some ministers raise objections, but they are told that they themselves have passed the bill.

“Oh”, they say.

Since 2008, when the present provincial assembly came into being, the matter of the standing committees has been repeatedly raised. In a parliamentary set-up, these committees form the backbone of parliament. It is here that parliamentarians thrash out issues, obtain technical input, discuss the ins and outs of the proposed law, give it final shape and bring it to the floor for a vote.

But not in Balochistan. No sir, not in Balochistan.

Why not? I asked the chief minister of the province Nawab Aslam Raisani. He speaks in short quick bursts, like a semi-automatic weapon firing off rounds. And he wears his sense of humour on his sleeve, the kind which made him say “degree is a degree, whether real or fake.

“So Nawab sahib, why haven’t you constituted standing committees,” I asked him. Raisani shrugged. “Ho jaye ga yeh bhee” (this will also be done),” he said in a rapid fire tone. Another minister sitting next to me repeated the question. Perhaps, he too was concerned. Raisani clearly was not.

What he didn’t say, but what I found out from others in hushed tones was that the formation of the standing committees was a contentious issue because of — and you’ve got to hear this — the wrangling over who would become chairmen of these committees. Since the government here is a coalition and all members of the assembly, save a few, are ministers or advisors, Raisani didn’t want to risk alienating anyone — and thereby risking his own position. So the logic was: let the issue be, let the committees be, why risk a conflict. “Kaam chal raha hai na” (work is still being done, isn’t it) was one justification.

Gem of a logic.

This is just one example of how the government is being run (down). Imagine: Post Eighteenth Amendment, this provincial government (and others) is responsible for almost everything, including education and health. It’s like asking a toddler to drive an 18 wheeler truck.

Chew on this, Raza Rabbani.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2012.

Reader Comments (28)

  • Mar 31, 2012 - 10:32PM

    This is why I say Army shoukd takeover. It is natural business for Army to run the government.

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  • Balochistan Youth
    Mar 31, 2012 - 10:50PM

    Government? What Government? I propose the Balochistan provincial assembly should be declared a national heritage site.

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  • Truthteller
    Mar 31, 2012 - 10:51PM

    LOL…. democracy by the idiots and for the idiots…

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  • Sarah Khan
    Mar 31, 2012 - 11:13PM

    I love your expression Fahad.

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  • Falcon
    Mar 31, 2012 - 11:16PM

    Great article. For the first time, we are beginning to see the structural deficiencies in Balochistan that are contributing to the problem. This issue of ‘who will be the esteemed leader?’ is a classical one in Pakistan’s institutional comedy. Last night, I was hearing an ex-IG’s interview that this petty politics is also a primary impediment in devising an integrated national strategy. Too much politics, too less work! And detractors somehow think, we don’t need a change in status quo?

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  • Khan Jr
    Mar 31, 2012 - 11:26PM

    What Fahd Husain fails to point is, how elections take place in Balochistan and who have been actively interfering in the electoral process there for several decades now.

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  • Arsalan
    Apr 1, 2012 - 12:38AM

    here’s democracy for u in pakistan

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  • Kashif Shams
    Apr 1, 2012 - 12:51AM

    Author has very aptly raised the issue of governance in Baluchistan, the most vulnerable and violent member of the Federation. The situation becomes more alarming in the post Eighteenth Amendment scenario which entrusts enormous powers to provinces. This amendment has addressed a great deal of conflicts and grievances among provinces. Now it is the responsibility of the provinces who have to run the show. The way things are progressing in Baluchistan, with ongoing insurgency, this will only lead to further loss. Provinces have to build their capacities to effectively govern. If they do not, they will be left behind by the bigger province which is an easy target of exploitation and an excuse for their own self miss-governance.

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  • Shahid Jamil
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:57AM

    How much better is the National legislature. How much debate was there in the parliament on 18th amendment and how many members had actually read the bill. And what about the current drama that is going on regarding PCNS. How many members of the parliament are in fact functionally educated? Have you ever heard our prime minister speak? And what about the other provincial legislatures? Sindh does not have a leader of the opposition and in Punjab the chief minister is rarely in attendance. Nearly 70% of the membership in our assemblies is from feudal/wadera background. What better do you expect? Let us stop putting down Balochistan and use the Baloch sardars as an excuse for historic mistreatment and negligence of the province. The leaders in the rest of the country are no better and in fact in some areas may be worse than what we have in Balochistan.

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  • Cynical
    Apr 1, 2012 - 2:58AM

    It seems every one like this author knows the problem, sans solution.

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  • blaaah
    Apr 1, 2012 - 3:44AM

    Are you kidding me?
    What kind or sorcery is this!

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  • blaaah
    Apr 1, 2012 - 3:46AM

    One does not simply constitute standing committees in Balochistan.

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  • Apr 1, 2012 - 4:38AM

    And yet another commandable article. KEEP IT UP.

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  • Siddh
    Apr 1, 2012 - 9:25AM

    Fahad, thanks for highlighting this. Please raise this issue in your on-air program as well demanding answers and trying to wake up Mr. Rabbani here in Islamabad. Our brothers in Balochistan deserve some relief.

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  • Feroz
    Apr 1, 2012 - 9:32AM

    Democracy at its very best it seems. Speakers from all the Worlds Legislatures must come to this country for learning what is Democracy and how the House must function.

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  • Khan Jr
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:10AM

    @Zahid Hamid
    Your cup of wisdom overruns as usual. It is time this province also underwent a name change to reflect the true nature of power that resides within: ”Agencyistan” or “FC-istan” would makes sense. Any suggestions?

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  • Rashed Aurakzai
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:15AM

    They’ll learn. If you had only trusted them 64 years before, they would have learned something and yes we know who and how Balochistan is run.

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  • Rashed Aurakzai
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:27AM

    And will standing committee make any difference. Isloo had enough of them but could they pass HEC on to provinces.

    And when you spend Rs.900 billions from targeted revenues of Rs.1950 bn and pay Rs.1000bn in debt servicing, and pose the rest as charity to the nation, all you can have Raisanis and Not Galloways or Obamas.

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  • Sameer
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:50AM

    Good article Fahd. This was quite surprising.

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  • Waqas Butt
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:51AM

    I liked the article, It is good to investigate the core problems so be able to fix them well.

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  • anticorruption
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:16AM

    @cinical:

    “It seems every one like this author knows the problem, sans solution.”

    True, but that is only because there is perhaps no easy solution. However, one common sense principle is not to dig further when you are already in a whole. The complete abolition of the concurrent list in the 18th amendment seems like a perfect example of doing just that. When this is the condition of the provincial govts and legislatures, completely removing the federal govt means leaving the people and their genuine issues in a complete void. Now, the federal govt can’t do anything on sectors taken out of its purview and the provincial set up is even more corrupt and incompetent than the federal one.

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  • Rizwan Anwae
    Apr 1, 2012 - 12:53PM

    “Reply Government? What Government? I propose the Balochistan provincial assembly should be declared a national heritage site.” by Balochistan Youth

    Why only Balochistan Assembly? I think the way Democracy is made to function in this country this should be declared a Natural Heritage for the benefit of students of history

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  • Sajid I. B
    Apr 1, 2012 - 1:58PM

    If you are surprised by that, you should see how it is goes in Gilgit Baltistan Legislative Aseembly. Compared to GBLA, Baluchistan democracy will appear like Churchillian brilliance.

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  • Apr 1, 2012 - 2:24PM

    ” this provincial government (and others) is responsible for almost everything, including education and health. It’s like asking a toddler to drive an 18 wheeler truck.”

    It’s only democracy once the electorate has a chance to weigh in. That takes time and trials. The incompetence and bumbling of the Assembly are excellent campaign issues, are they not?

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  • YUSUFZAI
    Apr 1, 2012 - 10:52PM

    @zaid hamid:
    they have done this natural business for more than 32 years what good have they done.this is not drill mr

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  • Ismail Sultan
    Apr 1, 2012 - 11:09PM

    See the grief situation in Baluchistan on one hand and then see this degree-tou-degree-hoti-hai reconciliation government. And then one wonders why democracy is not delivering.

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  • Shahzib Khan
    Apr 2, 2012 - 9:53PM

    @Ismail Sultan: What democracy has supposed to do with degree? Balochistan and KPK are burning due to agencies’ never ending game. Pakistan will progress only when Khaki is kept out of policy matters!

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  • Salma
    Apr 3, 2012 - 12:54AM

    Right but not so right – right cause the issue is egnuine – not right cause the writinga nd its tone is prejudiced. I personally know some women MPAs who do read and contribute a lot. However Fahd has the unmistakeable biased lens towards Balochistan ” lasbella is 2 hours drive from Karachi which explains his urbane demeanour” this is biased highly biased. Committees should be made but one should be more rationale in crtisizing and should have done more thorough research by bringing in those few MPAs atleast who are capable of making the change, but this writer has written off the entire assembly more cause of prejudice than accurate analysis.

    Nonetheless thanks for visiting Balochistan and bring up an important issue- hope next time you will not talk about us as a herd of sheep.

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