Feisal Naqvi

Not in my name

In Uncategorized on June 26, 2012 at 11:09 am

I wrote last week that the people of Pakistan were getting exceedingly impatient in their wait for the fruits of democracy. I do not think that the appointment of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf as PM has helped things. If anything, it reminds me of that famous scene fromThe Naked Gun in which John Houseman, playing a driving instructor, instructs his student on how to properly respond to a rude trucker. “All right, Stephanie, gently extend your arm. Extend your middle finger. Very good. Well done.”

Pakistan, these days, is in the grip of an acute energy crisis. Many small businesses are being forced to shut down because of massive power outages. Protests against loadshedding are now not just routine, but routinely violent. Even the Government of Punjab, Pakistan’s largest province, supports these protests, though it claims to deprecate the accompanying violence. Lack of electricity is thus certainly one of the most important public policy problems in Pakistan.

Before becoming the prime minister, Raja Pervaiz Ashraf’s most prominent position was as the federal minister for water and power, a position which he occupied from February 2008, all the way up till February 2011. Raja Sahib not only failed singularly in alleviating loadshedding, but acquired an unenviable reputation as the “Baghdad Bob” of Islamabad, forever making ludicrous pronouncements about how the end of loadshedding was around the corner.

Our new prime minister was also regarded as the main mover behind the decision to try and solve the power crisis through rental power projects. This policy was a byword for corruption from day one, with Pakistanis being treated to the incongruous sight of one federal minister (Faisal Saleh Hayat) repeatedly and publicly accusing a fellow member of the cabinet (Raja Pervaiz Ashraf) of being a crook. Subsequently, the Supreme Court got into the act andshot down the policy in a scathing decision, which called — amongst other things — for the criminal prosecution of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf and his placement on the Exit Control List.

Leaving aside issues of criminality, Raja Sahib’s embrace of the rental power policy raised fundamental issues of competence. Pakistan already has sufficient installed capacity to meet its demands. What Pakistan does not have is the ability to pay for the electricity being generated because, on average, we sell electricity for less than the average cost of producing and distributing it. In these circumstances, signing short-term contracts to buy even more expensive electricity was hardly a smart move.

Given these facts, one thing is clear. I’m not sure what political considerations President Asif Ali Zardari took into account before he finalised the name of Raja Pervaiz Ashraf. But clearly, giving a damn about what non-jiyalas might think was not one of them.

At the same time, let me make one thing absolutely clear. I do not like the PPP. I really, really, really wish that Pakistan was not held hostage by their stupidities. But I do not want anybody other than the people of Pakistan to throw them out.

It has become fashionable for us to bemoan our lack of leaders. If anything, we have the opposite problem; i.e., a surfeit of would-be messiahs. In Pakistan, every person who clambers to the top of a particular heap immediately assumes that he is the institution, not just the incumbent. What I would like to see instead, just once, is some degree of humility; so that criticism of the PPP does not become an attack on democracy; and so that queries regarding Arsalan Iftikhar are not treated as the equivalent of an armed assault on the Supreme Court. All of us, our leaders included, are subordinate to the Constitution and the values enshrined in it. It would be good if our leaders could remember that.

In his book, The Decisive Moment, Jonah Lehrer talks about how the ability to learn from our mistakes is, quite literally, the basis of our human intelligence. He illustrates this point by referring to two different computers. In 1997, IBM built a computer called “Deep Blue”, which became the first machine to ever defeat the reigning chess champion of the world. Deep Blue operated through brute force, analysing more than 200 million possible moves per second. And while it won against Garry Kasparov, the battle between man and machine was close.

The software wizards who came up with TD Gammon, a backgammon programme, adopted a completely different approach. Unlike Deep Blue, their programme started off with essentially zero knowledge. At the same time, unlike Deep Blue, TD Gammon also has the ability to learn from its mistakes. The programme was set up to play against itself and after a few hundred thousand games, it had learnt so much that it was able to consistently beat the best humans in the world.

In terms of Pakistan’s political options, the Deep Blue approach is analogous to the benefits of a technocratic government: take the best people with the most knowledge and throw them at a particular problem. The TD Gammon approach, by contrast, represents the promise of democracy. It starts off incompetent and unskilled. But because it has the ability to learn from its mistakes, it eventually reaches a standard of excellence unattainable by pure technocrats.

My point here is simple: democracy is a process. If you do not let that process operate, it will never be able to fix itself. Instead, all that we will be left with is the endless iteration of the cycle in which we have already wasted 65 years.

Let me be clearer still. I have the highest respect for the superior judiciary but I did not vote for them. I did vote for this execrable government and while I may now regret that vote, the fact remains that Raja Pervaiz Ashraf was voted in by my elected representatives. I do not want him thrown out by somebody I didn’t vote for.

I doubt if any of the people plotting in the shadows give a damn about what I think. Nonetheless, since I am on record as noting that the people of Pakistan are running out of patience, let me make my position clear. Don’t do it, your Lordships. Not in my name.

Published In The Express Tribune, June 26th, 2012.

  1. But if he refuses to implement the SC’s NRO judgment, then he too must go, right? Surely we can’t have the executive headed by a man who has no regard for rule of law or would you still argue that raja sb. should be allowed to complete his tenure.

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