The Ministry of Defence is about to declare mapping illegal in Pakistan. The federal cabinet, Pakistan’s foremost civilian authority, is willingly giving up a civic task to agencies that report to Pakistan’s Armed Forces.
The proposed Land Surveying and Mapping Bill 2012 will entrust all mapping responsibilities in Pakistan to the Survey of Pakistan (SoP), which supposedly reports to the Ministry of Defence (MoD), but effectively takes its orders and cues from the General Head Quarters. Consider that the Surveyor General of Pakistan is often a serving or retired General, who leads the organisation that is not open to scrutiny by the civilian authorities.
The proposed Bill will require all government or private agencies involved in surveying and mapping to register themselves with the SoP. Failing to do so will result in one-year imprisonment and a fine of up to one million rupees. The Bill further threatens imprisonment and fines up to five million rupees to office bearers of firms who do not comply with the directives of the SoP. The Bill will restrict mapping responsibilities to the SoP in the public sector, thus eroding decades of development work in geo-spatial analytics by several provincial government and municipal authorities.
The Bill enables the SoP to ask the Police to register a criminal case against an individual firm or a person who is found developing maps independent of the SoP. Furthermore, the SoP will recover funds received by anyone found developing geo-spatial solutions without the SoP’s blessings. For instance, if the Higher Education Commission awards a grant to a professor at a university to do research using geo-spatial data, and if the professor fails to register his research plan with the SoP, the University would have to give up funds to SoP while the professor could be jailed and fined. Even the Federal Bureau of Revenue cannot keep the funds it recovers from defaulters.
The provisions of the proposed Bill constitute a serious threat to civil liberties, intellectual freedom, freedom of expression, and pursuit of knowledge in Pakistan. The Bill, as it stands today, will curb operational freedom of several federal and provincial agencies, and will handicap all municipal governments in their ability to deliver services to their constituents. The Bill will also restrict several international humanitarian agencies from providing relief to millions of internally displaced Pakistanis who have been effectively abandoned by the State. And lastly, the Bill will force internal and external donors to channel all funds for mapping and spatial data production to the SoP, further extending the Armed Forces unwelcome control over civic matters and resources. If civilian rule in Pakistan is to flourish, this law must not be enacted.
Theater of the Absurd
According to the BBC, Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf chaired a meeting of the federal cabinet on November 14 in which the Ministry of Defence (MoD) expressed its concerns about the quality of maps being produced by various departments of the United Nations and other humanitarian agencies in Pakistan. Furthermore, the MoD expressed reservations about mapping of sensitive areas in Pakistan. The MoD highlighted the need for legislation to act against such agencies.
BBC further revealed that in an earlier meeting on January 11, 2012, the federal cabinet instructed Ministries of Defence, Interior, and Petroleum to consult on the same matter and propose a framework. The three ministries decided that instead of entrusting the civilian controlled Geological Survey of Pakistan the task to set standards for mapping, all mapping services were made the exclusive domain of the military-controlled Survey of Pakistan. This stands out as a unique example of civilians willingly handing over control of civic matters to the armed forces.
There is more to this madness. BBC further revealed that Dr. Zafar Qadir, Chairman of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), had asked Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to take note of the activities of a relief agency Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP), which according to the learned Chairman, was operating illegally in Pakistan. Dr. Qadir asked the authorities to act against iMMAP and the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) whom he accused of threatening the security of Pakistan by undertaking mapping.