Pakistan's Prime Minister Concentrates on Constitutional Amendments to Shore Up Government

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Pakistan's Prime Minister Concentrates on Constitutional Amendments to Shore Up Government

The law-and-order situation inside the country remains precarious, uncertainties in the city of Karachi persist and Pakistan's economy is far from healthy. However, Prime Minister Mian Nawaz Sharif, whose Muslim League party enjoys a comfortable majority in the National Assembly, remains preoccupied with tampering with the country's constitution to consolidate his political position. In doing so, however, he pays careful attention to the military, which has exercised direct rule in Pakistan for almost half of the country's half-century of life.

ARMY INVITED TO SHARE ADMINISTRATION

It is not too long ago that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif forced the retirement of Army Chief of Staff Gen. Jehangir Karamat, who had publicly sought the involvement of the army in the civil administration to lend credibility to the government and to ward off corruption. In an about-face, Sharif has now invited the same military to join the administration and help improve the efficiency of his government, especially in the service- and revenue-generating sectors.

Non-payment of service charges for water and power supply by government bodies and the public is endemic in Pakistan. Defaults of payment on taxes and non-repayment of bank loans are chronic in the country. In fact, both Prime Minister Sharif and his predecessor and leader of the opposition, Benazir Bhutto, are guilty of such acts. As many as 35,000 men in uniform, therefore, have been appointed to run the Water and Power Development Authority (WAPDA) and to collect the old dues.

Similarly, numerous army officers have been detailed to different departments of the government to rid the bureaucracy of corruption and inefficiency. On the negative side, this is an acknowledgment that the civil administration is unable to deliver services on its own, a blow to the morale of civil employees who in many cases are honest and know their jobs, and it erodes the defined functions of the military and the civil society, and could end up corrupting the army too. On the other hand, it provides some breathing space and political security to Sharif's government against possible military intervention.

LAW-AND-ORDER SITUATION

An official government announcement reported: "At least 17 people, including 4 children, were killed inside a mosque in Multan, Punjab, during the early morning prayers on Jan. 4, 1999, when gunmen entered the mosque and opened fire." In fact, the victims were all Shi'i Muslims who had congregated to start the day's fast in the month of Ramadan, and it was no stray incident. In Punjab province Shi'i-Sunni killings are a continuing problem, with the government apparently unable to stop the endless carnage.

This massacre was followed by a bomb blast that destroyed a bridge at the time when the prime minister's motorcade normally crosses. Whether the prime minister and his family, who were late that day, were the target of the bomb or not, reprisals in such exchanges of violence are now commonplace.

Crises in Karachi continue. The military governor and the military courts have cracked down heavily on the rank-and-file of the Muhajir Quami Movement (MQM), a party of the local Urdu-speaking population who came to Pakistan from various parts of India when the subcontinent was partitioned in 1947. Hundreds have been jailed, with summary sentences passed against some. More arrest warrants have been issued against mostly MQM leaders.

Bank holdups, car-jackings and cases of banditry remain unabated. Military and para-military units have been raiding neighborhoods to search for and seize hidden arms, and in some cases have faced armed resistance. Homes of suspects have been demolished. In 1998 more than 650 people were killed in Karachi, which remains the country's commercial and industrial center. The infrastructure of the metropolitan area, which is home to 13 million people, is crumbling. …