Feisal Naqvi

Archive for November, 2008|Monthly archive page

Don’t squirrel away the babes!

In Uncategorized on November 19, 2008 at 5:45 am

I first became involved with journalism in the summer of 1987 as a sub-editor at the Nation. After two weeks I was promoted/kicked out into the reporting room where I spent most of my time learning how to properly structure a Punjabi sentence (i.e., pick a close female family member, state something about her body and/or sexual proclivities, and finally, insert result into whatever it is that you actually wanted to discuss, which could be anything from economics to anthropology).

The reason I mention this ancient history (besides boosting my journo-cred) is because one of my first assignments as the junior-most sub-editor was to edit an APP wire story in which it was alleged that James Bond liked his orange juice shaken not stirred. I was 18 and green back then, but I wasn’t stupid. So, even I knew that James Bond being a true narr da bacha was not prone to drinking orange juice. Ever. However, work options being what they were, I dutifully subbed the piece and it appeared in the next day’s edition.

The point is that publishing a story as ridiculous as that required a degree of cluelessness among the reading public. You couldn’t get away with that kind of rubbish any more because today every seven-year old kid knows what James Bond really drinks. And if he doesn’t, it is going to take him five seconds before he Googles the info, and another ten seconds before he is checking out James Bond and Eva Green [or your favourite Bond babe] making out on YouTube.

The internet, in other words, gives us an incredible opportunity to share information. And it is time that we started using that opportunity.

Let me give you a simple example. In 2001, I was hired by a large consulting firm to do a report on the independence of the judiciary. Since I had ample time those days, I eventually produced a 150-page thesis which tried to explain why Pakistan’s judicial system suffered from certain problems and what could be done to reform it.

While researching my report, I came across the interesting fact that there was a large amount of research out there on the judiciary in Pakistan which was simply not accessible to the public. Indeed, the consulting firm itself had commissioned numerous reports earlier on the exact same topic, none of which was generally available. To the extent any of that work was available, it was entirely through luck or through personal connections.

To give one example, I had gone to a conference to present a preliminary draft of my findings when I started talking to one of my fellow delegates, a retired judge from Canada. Lo and behold, it turned out that she too had done a report on the judiciary in Pakistan for the exact same firm I was working for.

The firm that hired me was not unusual in this regard. It’s the same with most developmental institutions in Pakistan, big and small. There are hundreds of reports on Pakistan mouldering away in the archives of ADB and the World Bank. Ditto for UNDP, DfID, CIDA, JICA and the rest of the development agencies out there.

Between all of these agencies (and the firms they employ), hundreds of reports are commissioned on Pakistan every year. Some of them are good, others mediocre. But all are useful. And yet, there is simply no way to find most of these reports unless you are already aware of them. Indeed, even if you do a Google search with my name and the name of the consulting firm I worked for, you will find no copy of that report on the web.

This compartmentalisation of knowledge is asinine. As it is, we already have a tremendous problem in Pakistan because our entire policymaking system has been outsourced to aid agencies. I have no axe to grind against multilateral agencies and I really do believe that they are trying to do good for Pakistan: my point is simply that the work they produce cannot be squirreled away and hidden. What we are stuck with now is a system in which multiple agencies commission multiple reports on similar subjects, most of which then disappear from public view. This is not acceptable.

The good news though is that changing this system is relatively easy. Apparently, all the major development agencies are required to submit copies of their reports to the Economic Affairs Division of the Ministry of Finance. Ideally, the Federal Government should set up an electronic depository and make all reports available through the web.

More realistically, all that is needed is for the Ministry of Finance to make a rule saying that a copy of every single report submitted to the Economic Affairs Division by development agencies must be simultaneously placed on Google books.

Having all reports available on the internet for free is not going to fix poverty in Pakistan. But it is going to allow those trying to fix poverty to think smarter. And that’s a thought to which I hereby raise a glass of furiously shaken orange juice.

No vino, no veritas

In Uncategorized on November 4, 2008 at 8:18 am

I am sick and tired of hearing over and over that our laws are fine, that it is only their implementation which is wrong. Many of our laws are not fine. All of them need to be re-examined, many of them need to be updated and some of them need to be redrafted from scratch

I don’t know how to say this politely so let me jump right in: we are a nation of liars. I am not referring to our politicians and to promises promiscuously made and abandoned. No, I am referring to us, we the people of this glorious land, for it is a cold hard judicially recognised fact that Pakistanis (and Indians, for that matter) do not tell the truth.

One of the standard maxims of law drummed into the head of every young barrister is the saying falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus, which means “false in one thing, false in everything.” This principle of law goes all the way back to Roman times and it stands for the position that the testimony of a person who had been proven wrong about one thing is to be considered false in its entirety.

Thus, if a lawyer can show that a witness who claimed to have seen A and B gang up and beat C was false in that B was actually dead at the relevant time, the testimony of that witness cannot be used to convict A. This principle is still followed in England today. And in the United States. But not in Pakistan. And not in India.

In Pakistan and India, generations of judges have reluctantly been forced to deal with the fact that we do not tell the truth. Confronted with a lying witness, a Pakistani judge does not discard the entirety of that witness’s testimony: instead he “sifts the wheat from the chaff” and only discards those bits which he does not believe.

The reason why judges in India and Pakistan undertake this exercise is because of the fabled FIR. For those who don’t know, the term FIR stands for “First Information Report” which is filed under Section 152 of the Criminal Procedure Code, 1898. Legally speaking, an FIR is not even substantive evidence; instead, it is just a report which forms the basis for further investigation.

In reality, the recording of an FIR is a step with massive significance because it effectively requires the police to arrest the persons named in it. Legally speaking, the FIR is supposed to be a record of what an eyewitness to a crime actually saw. In reality, it is a document drafted by the victim’s family in close consultation with the local police officers, designed so as to incriminate as many of the “opposing side” as possible.

Let me give you an example. Suppose that Mr Innocent Bystander of Chak No 452, District Mandi Bahauddin finds a dead bullet-riddled body lying on a dirt road near some sugarcane fields. In theory, Mr Bystander should hotfoot it over to the nearest police station and record his statement saying, “I was going home from the field when I found the dead body of Mr X lying in the road.”

In reality, Mr Bystander (or the police) will inform Mr X’s next of kin and eventually the police will record a statement by Mr X’s younger brother/cousin/nearest non-incarcerated male relative saying something like the following:

“Mr X and I were going back to our home when A, B and C stepped out of the fields into our path. A shouted out that they would take revenge for the murder of our ancient enemy, B then shot my brother in the chest with a 12-gauge shotgun, Then they all disappeared into the fields, shouting that they had at last taken revenge and warning us not to take any action.”

Now suppose you are the judge hearing the murder case and the defence proves that A was actually in jail at the time of the alleged murder. What will you do? If you start picking holes in the web of evidence so patiently created by the dead man’s relatives, you will most likely exonerate the murderer. You cannot accept the FIR at face value and yet the dead man demands justice.

So far as I know, many judges deal with this conundrum by assuming that the family of Mr X will have learnt the correct facts through the village grapevine and that the most serious accusations (e.g., the fatal shot) will be levelled against the person most likely involved. B is therefore likely to be convicted of murder and the other two will be let off.

At this point you may ask, so what? All systems of justice are flawed. Why dwell on these issues?

The answer is that laws have consequences. Laws are a reflection of the values that we, as a people, choose to enforce. I do not know whether we were liars first or whether our laws encouraged us to become liars. But what we have now is a system which completely disenfranchises the individual in that whether or not he tells the truth is judicially irrelevant: the only truth which counts judicially is that which the official believes.

Little wonder then that our people (and our politicians) believe there is nothing wrong with lying. More importantly, this system also corrupts the relevant officials because people who deal day in and day out with lying litigants not unnaturally come to the conclusion that the masses are devious, untrustworthy and incapable of governing themselves.

The bigger picture point is that I am sick and tired of hearing over and over that our laws are fine, that it is only their implementation which is wrong. Many of our laws are not fine. All of them need to be re-examined, many of them need to be updated and some of them need to be redrafted from scratch.

Einstein defined stupidity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. We are not stupid. It is time we tried different things.