A Law unto
By Dr Shireen M Mazari
The exhilarating victory of the
Pakistan cricket team against the much-touted English
side was yet another reminder that, given an opportunity,
this nation is second to none. As I have believed
and stated in these columns earlier, our cricketers
always win in spite of bureaucratic machinations
and the cricketing officialdom, which seems to be
a law unto itself and unaccountable for any actions
Nowhere was this more clearly reflected than in
the absence of the PCB chief on the day our team
won against all odds in Lahore. Instead of being
there at this critical juncture for the team, he
saw fit to whiz off to India to talk to the new
BCCI led by Sharad Pawar. Could his meeting in India
not have waited for another day? Had he and the
PCB shown such speed to take up the issue of Inzamam's
wrongful 'dismissal', Bell's cheating in claiming
a catch that wasn't, or Pietersen threatening Afridi
with the bat, Shahriyar Khan may have redeemed some
credibility for himself and the board. But that
has not happened to date. Worse still, the question
arises whether Shahriyar, while in India, unilaterally
took the decision to give in to Indian demands for
postponing the Asia Cup which Pakistan is to host?
Was it in our interest to do so?
Clearly, the new PCB set-up, comprising foreign
office retirees (the Shahriyar-Zaidi combine), has
little empathy for our players and more 'diplomatic'
sensitivities for the Indians. That is why the Pakistani
team had to relish its victory without the congratulatory
presence of Mr Shahriyar. Surely, the representatives
of the people in their parliamentary committees
need to e find out why he had to absent himself
from the day of victory. That is if the PCB chief,
known for his arrogance towards his fellow countrymen,
will deign to come before such a committee -- after
all, his past record is not very encouraging on
this count. Nor are the PCB chief and his minions
alone in feeling they are accountable to no one.
The PTF's antics have undermined many rising but
poor tennis playing youth to accommodate favorites,
but that is a story in itself.
There is a growing trend in this country for all
manner of organizations and bodies to feel they
cannot be held accountable to anyone. Despite efforts
by parliamentary committees, bodies like the CDA
by and large continue to carry out activities regardless
of their propriety and legality. Press revelations
simply pass off with a shrug while coming before
committees is seen as a transitory discomfiture.
As a CDA official lamented when questioned on the
legal position relating to certain road expansions,
such legalities "will only delay the work".
The assumption that nothing could truly stop them
from doing what they intended, smacked of arrogance
and a cavalier attitude towards serious public concerns
and the laws of the land.
But what of the bureaucrat who actually retains
his sensitivities to the plight of the nation and
its limited resources, and points out the erroneous
decisions taken by his political boss -- be it in
the case of overpaid or illegally hired foreign
consultants, or the hiring of excessive staff? These
bosses also feel they are a law unto themselves
and not accountable to state employees. That is
why one secretary, sensitive to the nation's resources,
now finds himself a pariah whom no politician will
Nor is it just in the field of government and politics
where we find the powerful becoming laws unto themselves.
Take the case of the private schools that have mushroomed
all over the country, supposedly to provide better
quality education than the government. Some undoubtedly
do. But the critical issue is that there is absolutely
no law or supervisory mechanism for these schools.
They can charge whatever fees they want, they can
hire whatever quality teachers and, most crucially,
they can teach whatever they want -- at least until
they get to the 'O' or matriculation class levels.
There are schools that are highly politicized in
their overall agendas; there are schools that have
overcrowded classrooms; and there are schools where
there is a quick turnover of teachers -- in one
case, a class is on to its fourth teacher in one
subject alone, in the space of one term. Worse still,
there are no minimal qualifications for subject
specialists, nor are the CVs of the teachers made
public to the parents. There are textbooks, published
abroad, that still talk of "Indo China"
and others that wrongly calculate historic periods.
Many schools still do not have assemblies where
children sing the national anthem, so we have a
whole generation that is unfamiliar with the national
anthem of this country. Yet, the Ministry of Information
can make this compulsory for all schools, including
private schools. What is preventing them from doing
Who will oversee the working of private schools?
The education ministry seems unable to even oversee
its own schools in terms of what is being taught
there. The horrifying incident of US propaganda
finding space in our textbooks in the form of a
poem of praise for Bush is a sorry reflection on
how textbooks are formulated here. To say it was
purely accidental is even worse because it reflects
an unacceptable level of ignorance on the part of
the compiler of the book in question. In any case,
it is unfortunate that our own English-language
poets are disregarded when it comes to compilation
of English poetry or English literature in general.
Coming back to the issue of some form of supervision
of private schools, civil society clearly needs
to develop a greater sense of civic duty. We need
to form civil society groups to help the state oversee
educational activities in the private sector. At
the very least, we need to set minimal educational
qualifications for subject teachers and assess the
books and syllabi. Also, all teachers being hired
should sign contracts for a minimal period so that
there is some continuity in the teaching. Private
schools, by and large, are offering good salaries
so there is no reason why they cannot implement
minimal standards of teaching. The facilities offered
by private schools also need to be looked into.
In the long term, there is also a need to bring
private -- and public-sector education at par, including
in terms of examination systems and boards.
All in all, there is a need for civil society to
move actively to challenge all those who feel they
are laws unto themselves and thereby not accountable
to anyone in the country. It is the power of civil
society that will push the political elite in parliament
into action and strengthen institution building
and the parliamentary form of governance. It is
time we became dependent on institutions and due
process rather than on individuals, no matter how
charismatic. The system needs to deliver and that
can only happen when there are checks and balances
in all sub-systems because accountability is central
to responsiveness and that is a critical factor
in national well-being.
(The writer is director general of the Institute
of Strategic Studies in Islamabad. Courtesy The