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THE ELECTIONS’ MOSAIC

With general elections due somewhere after mid-2018, the expectations of the people and the stakes thereof has evolved dramatically with the political scenario changing almost on a daily basis. The Supreme Court (SC) verdict voiding Election Act 2017 and thus disqualifying Nawaz Sharif as party head has confounded all elections predictions by throwing what amounts to a monkey wrench into the electoral process.

In the NA-120 bye election held in Sept 2017 Begum Kulsoom Nawaz of PML-N polled over 61000 votes defeating PTI’s Dr. Yasmin Rashid’s 47000 votes. Ali Khan Tareen, son of PTI stalwart Jahangir Tareen who held the Lodhran NA-154 seat before being disqualified in Dec last, received over 90000 votes but lost by a considerable margin to PML(N)’s  Iqbal Shah.      Lodhran was a significant PML(N) victory, for the PTI a major upset in a stronghold from where Jahangir Tareen’s margin of victory in 2015 was almost 40000 votes. Even with PML (N) dominant, expectations for mostly a straight PML(N)-PTI fight in the Punjab will change. There is now likely a late PTI surge to coincide with defections by the disenchanted in the PML (N) camp, this process force-multiplying after Nawaz’s convictions in the PanamaGate case.

Sindh’s rural areas remain a strong support base of the PPP. Except for individual PML (F) exceptions, PPP’s candidates have won every election hands down since the party’s inception in late 1967, this despite not bringing about any major change in the lives of the common man. The backing of the entire administrative machinery makes pre-poll rigging very much a certainty. With the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) becoming a laughing stock and in a meltdown, Pak Sarzameen Party (PSP) of former Mayor Mustafa Kamal, stands to gain. The joker in the pack be-devilling PPP is Rao Anwar who Zardari inadvertently confirmed as his rumoured “hitman” by labelling him “a brave kid” in a recent interview.  There was method in Zardari’s seeming madness publicly sending a message of support to Rao Anwar, his possibly turning “approver” adds to Uzair Baloch as a Zardari nightmare! Unfortunately Rao Anwar’s Catch-22 is that his detractors want him alive to face trial but his “friends”, and there many in the Sindh Police, want him dead.  Given the sorry history of witnesses against Zardari being murdered, not surprising that knowing this “routine” this “walking dead man” has done the disappearing act, from friend and foe alike.

Nawaz Sharif’s recent massive election rally in Peshawar notwithstanding he cannot overtake PTI in KPK. Following the PML (N), JI and JUI (F), PPP and Aftab Sherpao’s JWP may get the odd seat or two. Without an outright majority, PTI may well continue with a coalition govt with the JI. In our first-past-the-post system the loss of Nawaz the “vote getter” as opposed to Shahbaz Sharif the “doer” in the campaign trail will be badly felt by the PML(N).  Even given that they still get maximum seats in the Punjab, PML(N) will need the PPP and independents to form the govt in the Center. While the once-vaunted PPP may not have far more than a dozen seats or so, PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto has come of political age, being “re-launched” post Davos 2018. Interviewed by an Indian publication while attending the Annual Meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos recently, he vowed critics by deftly answering some very loaded questions.

The recent run-up to the Senate Elections shows that manipulation and horse trading of the worst kind is the order of the day. Former Speaker of the Senate Wasim Sajjad has expressed forcefully that there must be direct elections to the Senate. An indirect election is always riddled with corruption, the whole process of democracy being called into question. The PML(N) faces a potential electoral disaster in the Senate by taking an emotional instead of a calculated risk by having the Senate applications signed by Nawaz Sharif, conceivably all PML (N) Senate aspirants could have their papers declared “void”. Subject to legal challenges, one can be sure that the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) will bail the PML (N) out somehow.

During the hearing of   whether a person disqualified by the SC can head a political party, some remarks were passed by the Court, the PML (N) is militating against this. Across most country judges do pass such remarks but what is relevant is the contents of their eventual judgment. While he was eloquent about the right of Parliament to enact laws without direction from anyone, implying the Supreme Court (SC) (and maybe the Army?).  The PM’s parliamentary initiative out of the blue was certainly a desperate attempt at a pre-emptive strike.  While he was correct, Shahid Khaqan should have added that it is also the moral and bounden duty of the SC to strike down laws repugnant to the Constitution.  On Wednesday last the SC gave a fitting reply by exercising “their” prerogative under the Constitution to strike down Election Act 2017.

Convicted or not, Maryam Nawaz is clearly not acceptable to the hard core PML(N) loyalists like Ch Nisar Ali Khan who has openly called her “inept to hold office” and that he will “not work under her”. Those who know her or have worked with Maryam do praise her political acumen and other qualities, unfortunately in public perception she comes across as a spoilt brat. Logic demands Shahbaz becomes PM but Hamza’s taking over as Chief Minister (CM) Punjab will be opposed by cousin Maryam with Shahbaz unlikely to trust Punjab to anyone else, he will most likely stay on as CM. The PML(N) will have to compromise like they did earlier in choosing as stopgap Shahid Khaqan Abbasi. PM Abbasi has surprised everyone, people generally across the board are more than happy with his commendable performance. Some hard-bitten foreign journalists asked me in Davos, “where have you been hiding him?” If the Establishment continues being comfortable with him, he will be the odds-on choice to be the next elected Prime Minister.

Given our bleak financial circumstances and other national headaches general elections may be delayed till September, or maybe even October. However the present political momentum and the damning court verdict gives PML (N) adequate reason for the elections announcement to come sooner than later, maybe soon after the Senate results, the elections being held 90 days thereafter.  Is electioneering possible during Ramzan and the heat? God may then well listen to the fervent prayers of all Pakistanis to rid us of the looters and murderers proliferating in our political leadership

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COURAGE BEYOND COMPARE

On Feb 13 at about 1210 hours an armoured cash-in-transit (CIT) vehicle of a private security services company was parked outside the Tarnol branch of Meezan Bank in Islamabad to pick up cash amounting to Rs. 14 million from the bank . As the two security guards, Supervisor Muhammad Afsar and Armed Guard Muhammad Safoor Khan came out of the branch carrying two satchels full of money, they were attacked by five dacoits. Safoor (a former NCO from Air Defence), who was carrying the satchels, received a bullet in his chest when fired upon at point blank range (a later autopsy showed the bullet wound tearing the side of his heart).  As the dacoits tried to snatch the bags he turned even though gravely wounded, ran towards the bank branch with the satchels containing the money in his hand. The critical injury notwithstanding, his first instinct, developed through weeks of pre-job training and hundreds of hours of valuable experience gained while on the job, was to carry out his assigned mission of protecting his responsibility at all costs. Safoor collapsed and died just 20 feet short of the door of the bank.  What words can describe this selfless attempt to fulfil his prime mission?

Seeing this opportunity the other dacoit tried to grab one of the two bags but the Supervisor Afsar (formerly a Naib Subedar from 8 AK) acted quickly, firing a round on the dacoit he managed to snatch the bag back.  Taking hold of the other bag from Safoor who by this time had died, he started running towards the bank. One of the dacoits shot at him hitting him in the groin, badly injuring Afsar who nevertheless managed to enter the door of the branch where he handed over the two bags to bank officials. Only then did Afsar collapse gasping in pain and discomfort. The bullet is still lodged close to his femoral vein, surgically difficult to dislodge.

Supervisor Khalid (ex-16 FF) protecting the CIT vehicle had in the meantime engaged the other dacoits, Driver Noor Khan seeing his colleagues in danger left the safety of his vehicle contrary to the SOP. In the melee the dacoits left empty-handed, the prompt action by the CIT crew had saved the day. The bank’s cash was intact but it came at a heavy price from a dedicated professional who had made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty. Safoor gave his life and Afsar was injured. The bravery, dedication and commitment displayed by the crew was extraordinary. Their performance in an extremely dangerous situation was exceptional and exemplary. The injured Afsar could just as easily have stood by and watched while the armed dacoits took the bags and escaped, no one would have censured or blamed him, it being a matter of life and death. His partner had already died having already done his bit.

While it will not be fair to comment on the action, or the lack of it, of security guards on duty at the Bank’s branch, the fact is they did nothing to try and come to the support of our CIT guards even as the sordid episode was being played out. The first instinct of any good security guard would have been to challenge anyone trying to steal the bank’s money and if shots were fired, to respond in the same manner!

This incident highlights how given the right leadership and good governance environment Pakistanis are truly exceptional. Many have left their mark by demonstrating an unwavering commitment to their profession, and our success has been achieved through their aptitude and sheer hard work fully exploiting their capabilities. Risking their lives on many occasions only underlines the exemplary character of our uniformed personnel. Besides being a hardworking and industrious lot, Pakistanis are brave, patriotic, honest and dedicated to their responsibilities. Men with courage exist in all countries but not in the exceptional numbers as Pakistanis. A typical Pakistani is exceptionally so!  The Army’s rank and file is universally recognized as being among the bravest and most professional in the world.

An important trait of a security guard is that he must be honest, he should also be self-motivated to keep clients safe and secure by maintaining professional integrity.  He tries to represent the company and client to the same standard of quality they represent themselves. Whether he works at a bank, an office building, or residence, etc, a security guard has the vital responsibility of being vigilant and steadfast in protecting his responsibility.  Due consideration must be given to lives of personnel performing such security duties. These personnel must have adequate firearms training, including regular live firing. Because of the lack of proper oversight procedures, this aspect is again given mere lip-service, untrained guards without adequate experience of handling firearms are a hazard for themselves and those they are meant to protect without training and experience of how to react in such situations.

Our three guards (and the driver) performed well beyond the call of normal duty even when outgunned and outnumbered against five desperate dacoits who were willing to kill. The brave sons of the soil who were shot were both ex-servicemen, one was with us for 10 years while the other had service of over15 years. Their outstanding commitment and devotion to duty is a matter of great pride for us. Endowed with qualities of bravery, honesty and responsibility, their response exhibited these qualities to the fullest. Two days earlier guard Amin prevented a client being robbed outside Summit Bank in Karachi in the Bank’s car park by scaring off the dacoits by firing warning shots. Considered to be ordinary and lowly individuals, these security guards have stoic courage and are dedicated to their profession beyond the normal calling. Their overwhelming sense of duty secures a peaceful environment for our many clients.

Our unsung armed uniformed personnel carry out their assigned duties, unnamed and unrecognized, their performance saves precious lives by putting themselves in harm’s way. They have very little reward except for their salary and at times, overtime. Disregarding their personal safety they invariably display commendable initiative and courage when faced with very threatening situations. They are a selfless lot, not complaining but being satisfied with what they have and striving always to perform beyond the call of duty. One’s heart is filled with pride in having the selfless devotion to duty of such remarkable men of courage.  The rhetorical question, what have we done to deserve the loyalties and dedication of such magnificent men?

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PAKISTAN BREAKFAST AT DAVOS 2018

Truly independent and impartial the World Economic Forum (WEF) is not tied to any special interests or groups. WEF’s Annual Meeting at Davos presents a unique once-a-year opportunity bringing together the world’s most prominent politicians, Heads of State and/or govt, business and industrial leaders, policy makers, academics and scholars, scientists, philanthropists, social workers, media personalities, etc under one roof to discuss and shape global and regional agendas relating to economics, health, environment, media, security, and a host of other topics. CEOs of multinational corporations mingle with world leaders and A-list celebrities to discuss a range of topics such as the global economy, commodity prices, environmental issues, etc. The Forum produces a series of research reports and engages in a number of initiatives that seek to tackle global challenges through public-private collaboration.  Typically, more than 2,000 people are invited to attend, participate, or cover the event.

Pakistan’s signature event is the traditional PAKISTAN BREAKFAST hosted jointly by PATHFINDER GROUP and DOW MARTIN GROUP. Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was the Chief Guest at the event being held since 2002. Pakistan faces a serious crisis of image internationally, the Pakistan Breakfast has been successful in dispelling the negative perception before a very precocious audience. PM Abbasi’s performance was above par, he  was on the dot when he said, “There are two Pakistan’s, one is on the CNN and the other is the reality” reflecting that at times the international media has shown bias in very quickly disseminating any news that paints Pakistan is a negative manner. The many positive and good aspects of Pakistan are unfortunately overlooked or misreported many times. The PM commented that the huge gap between perception and reality was bridged to a large extent by forums such as the Pakistan Breakfast. The guests at the event meet with senior Pakistan leaders in every walk of life to exchange views with a world audience in a very candid manner.

People from at least 35 nations were in attendance numbering at least 250 braving the early morning cold at what has now become the traditional venue, the Steigenberger Belvedere. Much before the PM had arrived the hall was full to its capacity at 8.00 in the morning. PPP Chairperson Bilawal Bhutto’s presence, made even better was graciously acknowledging by PM Abbasi at Breakfast 2018, democracy was the winner and was acknowledged as such by those who attended the function. The Pakistan Breakfast is meant to project a Pakistani’s soft and positive image and as an attractive venue for investment. Considering that in 2017 the Breakfast with Gen (Retd) Raheel Shareef the Chief Guest was a mega hit, Breakfast 2018 was a very special occasion, matching if not surpassing last year’s success, with positive feedback and enthusiasm by attendees. Questions were raised in 2017 about the direction in which Pakistan was heading in as a democratic entity, this time around the event progressed smoothly in a totally non-controversial manner, appreciated very much by the Davos crowd.  The PM spoke in a very frank and forthright manner about the challenges facing Pakistan, the potential and opportunities for investment. Guests from Singapore, the USA, UK and Japan were especially interested about the security challenges being faced by Pakistan and how it could affect regional stability. The optimism and confidence displayed by PM Abbasi while elucidating Pakistan’s future outlook and in answering some very direct and probing questions in a totally unruffled manner was appreciated and received positively by the gathering of a very knowledgeable crowd.

The PM was kind enough to acknowledge the contribution being made by Pathfinder Group and Dow Martin Group every year to raise awareness about Pakistan’s many aspects and projecting a positive image of their country. He also endorsed the views expressed by the Chairman Pathfinder Group about keeping the public sector out from the management of the event, saying rightly that involvement of the public sector would spoil the spirit of organizing the event, irrespective of how expensive it was for the private sector to arrange such events at Davos.

Another important aspect of the Pakistan Breakfast is that it has now become a platform for people of various walks of life to get to know each other and interact in a closed and informal setting. With participants being heads of mutual funds, big conglomerates, chartered accountants, and notable social celebrities and media owners, the Pakistan Breakfast succeeded in portraying a strong message about Pakistan’s positive image.

During his two day stay in Davos, PM Abbasi addressed a panel consisting of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) President Jin Liqun, Caixin Global Managing Director Li Xin, Russian Direct Investment Fund CEO Kirill Dmitriev, AECOM CEO and Chairman Michael Burke, Singapore Minister Chan Chun Sing and China National Machinery Industry Corp Chairman Ren Hongbin. Later on the sidelines of the Annual Meeting he held meetings with Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) Chief Executive Officer Tadashi Maeda, Uber CEO Dara Khowsroshahi, Telenor CEO Sigve Brekke, Siemens AG CEO Joe Kasser, Mitsubishi Corporation Chairman Ken Kobayashi, Japan External Trade Organisation (JETRO) CEO Ishige Hiroyuki and Trina-Solar CEO/Chairman Jifan Gao.

Davos presents a huge potential for Pakistan, unfortunately it has never been adequately represented at this forum on a consistent basis. In contrast the Indians have a contingent of over 200 top entrepreneurs at Davos, promoting their country and selling their  wares. The global village has become increasingly inter-connected and fast-paced with technological breakthrough, demographic shifts and political transformations having far-reaching societal and economic consequences. With the world becoming so fluid and changeable, leaders will have to share real-time insights and innovations on how to best navigate the future and inter-act positively on a plethora of issues. Pakistan needs to do more to communicate its case to the world given that it is a greatly misunderstood country, the initiatives taken every year by Pathfinder and Dow Martin groups on their own need to be boosted to be more effective. The handful of Pakistani businessmen that come to Davos cannot shoulder the burden of projecting Pakistan. While a Pakistani Head of State or of Government needs to represent Pakistan Davos every year, private sector participation also needs to be drastically expanded if we are to take advantage of commercial opportunities that can be networked in Davos and government-to-government interaction without the restraints shackles of red-tapism and protocol.

Where else would the PM have had an opportunity to hold discussions with so many top executives of global leader companies and organisations, except in Davos?

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RAPING PAKISTAN STEEL MILLS

Employing more than 40000 workers, Pakistan Steel Mills (PSM) was a gigantic force-multiplier for employment downstream in directly contributing to the national economy. Once a prized asset, the PSM now resembles a black hole and a burden on the economy, successive govts failing to capitalise on its potential. When Lt Gen Sabeeh Qamaruzzaman took over as Chairman PSM in Jan 1992 it was overstaffed, labour unions supported by political parties were a challenge to the management. Curbing union activities, the first savings Lt Gen Sabeeh effected were in overtime, incentive, medical, transport, etc. Within 18 months, he brought down total expenditures from Rs 223 million to Rs 165 million per month. In 1994 the mill ran at its highest ever production capacity of 95%, producing 1.04 million tonnes of steel that year. Despite Lt Gen Sabeeh’s successes, the upgradation endeavour failed because of poor contractual obligations and safety barriers with the Russian company entrusted to undertake the contract. By 1999 this vital project slid into anarchy.

In May 2006 PSM’s privatisation by a consortium led by Saudi Arabia Al Tuwairqi Group was reversed by the Supreme Court (SC) after protests by PSM employees, its unions and segments of civil society on grounds that the selling process was hasty and ignored profitability.           PSM’s freefall really started with the PPP govt coming into power in 2000 and the appointment of the most corrupt Chairmen ever, Usman Farooqi the brother of Salman Farooqi, a very close aide (Secretary General) to ex-President Asif Zardari. The already depleted resources were pushed to a point of no return through wholesale plunder and scavenging, the proceeds of corruption going to political benefactors using tainted officers, suppliers and vendors within PSM. Violating all norms of pre-procurement regime, contracts were signed with suppliers on exorbitant costs creating opportunities for kickbacks and commissions.

According to an Aug 19, 1996 article in The Washington Post “Beleaguered Benazir Bhutto” jointly written by Kenneth J. Cooper and Kamran Khan, “Last November, Bhutto promoted Usman Farooqi to be Chairman of Pakistan Steel despite evidence he had forged his educational certificates and purchased fake business and doctoral degrees from an unaccredited college in the United States. An internal investigation by Pakistan Steel in 1993 found that Farooqi had not earned a college degree but completed his higher education at technical schools in London and Pakistan. In the first eight months of Farooqi’s stewardship of Pakistan Steel, he made below-market deals that cost the state-run company about $140 million, according to two reports by its top executives. In January, for instance, the steel company lost $6 million by selling one of its prime products at more than one-third below the prevailing price. In May, the firm purchased five precision instruments from a Karachi supplier for more than $700,000 when the going rate was about $4,000.” Unquote.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) undertook twenty three inquiries particularly of the Usman Farooqi era from which eighteen references were prepared for the misuse of authority. Finally convicted to seven years rigorous imprisonment (RI) and disqualified for 21 years in two references, he entered into plea-bargain with two references, surrendering assets worth in excess of Rs. 330 million that he acquired illegally. He was somehow able to get bail after which he was neither seen nor heard from, managing to escape incarceration. Without someone with powerful connections helping him he could not flee the country while still on bail with criminal cases against him. If he was in Pakistan why did the authorities not find him? How he has escaped attention for many years remains a mystery. What was the quid pro quo?

Combination of four pronged strategy revolving around offloading shares, handing over management control, divestment and selling assets can be effectively applied to attract potential contenders for privatization of PSM. The restructuring however, emerges as a necessity to ensure post privatization viability. The pluses like exponential real estate value of PSM due to its location and skilled manpower do place it at a better bargaining position for privatization  as regards value to money is concerned. The employees’ laid off package has to be attractive to avoid politicisation of the issue in the election year.

After the plunder done by Farooqi, efforts to turn around PSM’s fortunes failed. Lt Col Muhammad Afzal Khan who took over in 1999 did manage to achieve a bit of success but he died prematurely. Lt Gen Abdul Qayyum took over the PSM that was still tainted with charges of corruption and in a state of disrepair due to bad management and lack of capital investment. Qayyum did excellent work managing to clear it of debts and to his credit signed an agreement with Transparency International (TI) to remove any stigma of corruption associated with the organization but because of ageing units and very poor maintenance the process of its downward slide could not be prevented .

The NRO rescued many culprits involved in plundering PSM and accumulating wealth beyond known sources of income. Annulled by the Supreme Court (SC) as violating the Constitution but the NRO’s beneficiaries continued enjoying and subsequently were even able to manage their cases through friendly NAB prosecution.  NAB announced in Dec last year it would “conduct a detailed inquiry into the PSM’s collapse to identify those responsible and to ascertain whether or not its collapse was part of any conspiracy”. Since June 2015 all operations in PSM have shut down, it is incurring loss of approx Rs. 1.4 billion each month. When the incumbent PML-N govt assumed power in 2013, PSM losses and liabilities stood around Rs. 200 billion.

If one were to focus responsibility, as the person most responsible for bringing about downfall of Pakistan’s largest and extremely profitable industrial unit, Usman Farooqi could not manage to evade NAB without somebody influential hiding him. Held accountable Usman Farooqi would have been a timely example for others to heed. The question is, who was hiding Usman Farooqi, and what was the consideration? The morally depraved person who thus helped Farooqi erode justice thus caused great loss to Pakistan is still influencing decisions in the corridors of power. The real question is, does NAB have the commitment to hold this morally despicable scoundrel accountable for his baser urges, are we resigned to this conspiracy of silence? That is the crux of the problem, what is the personal motivation of a very powerful bureaucrat continuing to protect this time-bomb ticking at the heart of future investment in Pakistan?

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“PAKISTAN PAVILION” AT DAVOS

The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland is a major creative force for engaging top leaders from across the world to undertake joint action relating to events for shaping the global, regional and industry agendas.  Having attained a reputation for great integrity, WEF is not tied to any political, partisan or national interests, it is “committed to improving the State of the World”.

Over 3,000 leaders from business (representing hundreds of WEF member corporate companies), govt and international organizations, civil society and religious organizations academia, media and the arts converged in Davos from 23 to 27 Jan. This year’s theme was “Creating a Shared Future in a Fractured World”, one of the aims being, “The fractures that have emerged politically, economically and socially must not foster intolerance, indecision and inaction. The 48th World Economic Forum Annual Meeting therefore aims to rededicate leaders from all walks of life to developing a shared narrative to improve the state of the world”.

Top global leaders, in addition to the US President included our own Prime Minister (PM) Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, Indian PM Narendra Modi, Italian PM Paolo Gentiloni, French President Emmanuel Macron, British PM Theresa May, Canadian PM Justin Trudeau, Argentina President Mauricio Macri, Brazil’s President Michel Temer, PM Norway Erna Solberg, PM of Sweden Stefan Löfven, and Lebanon’s Council of Ministers President Saad Al-Hariri. Among the Royals were King Abdullah-II and Queen Rania of Jordan, Queen Maxima of the Netherlands and Prince Turki al-Faisal of Saudi Arabia. The global business sector was represented by, among others, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandburg, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Sundar Pichai, Microsoft’s Bill Gates, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and IBM CEO Ginni Rometty were among the dozens of others.

PM Abbasi was accompanied by Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif, Minister Saira Afzal Tarar, Minister of State Marriyum Aurangzeb and Minister of State Anusha Rahman. Unlike last year when former PM Mian Nawaz Sharif did not address any of the 400 or more sessions, Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was among the five panelists who spoke at the “Belt and Road Impact” session on Jan 24.Pakistan is partnering China’s high profile initiative through the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), this focuses on improving connectivity and cooperation among Asian countries, Africa, Europe and China. PM Abbasi also interacted with heads of States and govt in a special session of the Informal Group of WEF leaders (IGWEL).  Meeting with many govt and business leaders in bi-lateral sessions his focus was on encouraging the private sector to invest in Pakistan.

PM Shahid Khaqan Abbasi was the Chief Guest at the traditional PAKISTAN BREAKFAST hosted jointly by PATHFINDER GROUP and MARTIN DOW GROUP. The PM was quite eloquent about the present economic and security situation, the geo-political changes taking place in adjacent regions, its effect on the region and Pakistan and what a game-changer and an economic force-multiplier CPEC is to Pakistan. What was very noticeable was his confidence and comfort, particularly in the Q & A Session, in which he was not flustered despite repeated searching questions. It was a great honour for Pakistan that the Chinese guests requested that their Ambassador in Geneva say a few words.  The high point of the PAKISTAN BREAKFAST was the presence of Bilawal Bhutto Zardari.  24 years earlier I was privileged to accompany his mother as her aide in Davos inside the Congress Center.   I have never ever seen charisma like hers ever in Davos.   PM Abbasi graciously acknowledged his presence, what a great day for democracy!

This year the PATHFINDER GROUP and MARTIN DOW GROUP took a private sector initiative establishing a small but representative Pakistan Pavilion in the GREENHOUSE of the Hotel Panorama. The first in WEF history, the intent of the Pavilion was to showcase PAKISTAN’S image in a soft and positive light. This experimental initiative was a walk-in affair where Pakistani entrepreneurs/officials in IT media, Financial Services (including microfinance and financial inclusion), philanthropy, etc were available to interact with international investors, experts and officials.  . On both the days, speakers from Pakistan spoke about Pakistan’s economy, gender empowerment, law and order situation, etc.   At the invitation of Ikram Sehgal and Jawed Akhai, Dr Ishrat Husain journeyed to Davos to speak about the challenge and the opportunities in Pakistan.  At a dinner at the Schatzalp on Tuesday among those who spoke were Shabbar Zaidi of Ferguson,  Dr Daniel Ritz of PTCL, Jerry Torres of AES Torres (USA), James Rubin former US Press Secretary to the President, Dr Marc Siegel of California (USA), Dr Huma Baqai, Ms Sidra Iqbal, Mr Aamer Mahmood of CPNE, Ambassador Zamir Akram, SPD, Jawed Akhai and Zarrar. Among those who braved the cold were Saifuddin Zoomkawala, Wamiq Zuberi, Fawad Rana, etc.

Pakistan’s private sector was represented by Javed Akhai, CEO Martin Dow Chemicals, Hussain Dawood, Group Chairman Engro Corporation Ltd, Saad Hamid, CEO Demo Enterprises, Dr Sania Nishtar, Founder and President Heartlife, my son Zarrar Sehgal Deputy Chairman Pathfinder Group and Ali Siddiqui, Vice Chairman JS Bank. Special Assistant to the PM, the person responsible for the PM’s visit to Davos. Davos presents a huge potential for Pakistan, it is imperative that Pakistani political and business leaders rethink the importance of participating in the WEF Annual Meetings. The global village has become increasingly inter-connected and fast-paced with technological breakthrough, demographic shifts and political transformations having far-reaching societal and economic consequences. With the world becoming so fluid and changeable, leaders will have to share real-time insights and innovations on how best to navigate the future and inter-act positively on a plethora of issues. Mostly bi-lateral meetings do benefit Pakistan but our negative image can only be erased by casting a longer “soft” shadow over the Davos world stage.

The overwhelming consensus among the world’s rich, powerful and/or knowledgeable is that the WEF Annual Meeting at Davos truly remains the most important economic and socio-political event in the world calendar.  WEF’s mission to “improve the state of the world” means engaging top global leaders to collaborate in shaping the global, regional and industry agendas. Davos gets your narrative not only heard but understood, while going there is important, to make it happen you have to be heard in public sessions. A handful of Pakistani businessmen at Davos can never shoulder the burden of projecting Pakistan. Davos is a unique opportunity to showcase Pakistan, it is imperative that our major business leaders use the Davos platform to be counted as the outstanding entrepreneurs they are.

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A GENUINE PAKISTANI GREAT

As its youngest and first ever Pakistani Commander-in-Chief (C-in-C) to head the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) from 1957 to 1965, Air Marshal Asghar Khan is eulogized not only for his professional acumen but also for the national significance he achieved. His vision and honesty, integrity and commitment to his mission were just a few of his attributes. Conducting himself both in military and civil life in the highest traditions of an officer and a leader, he was a source of national inspiration. A man of honour with conviction in his beliefs and a seeker of truth, this outspoken and blunt Pakistani tried many times in his political life to being light into the darkness that Pakistan has been shrouded in through most of its existence. He was only one of three senior military persons who opposed a military solution in East Pakistan in 1971, the others being Lt Gen Sahibzada Yaqub Khan and Col SG Mehdi. Maj Gen Ghulam Umar, than National Security Advisor to Gen Yahya, did suggest a conciliatory approach in Gen Yahya’s inner circle, this sane voice was drained out by the hawks.  Unfortunately when Ashgar Khan died on Jan 8 this year, the country moral compass was in far worse shape than when he entered politics almost 50 years ago.

Listening to Quaid-e-Azam’s advice speaking to a unit of the (than) Royal Pakistan Air Force in April 1948,“….Pakistan must build up her Air Force as quickly as possible. It must be an efficient Air Force second to none and must take its right place with the Army and the Navy in securing Pakistan’s defense…….. But aircraft and personnel in any numbers are of little use, unless there is a team spirit within the Air Force and a strict sense of discipline prevails. I charge you to remember that only with discipline and self-reliance can the Royal Pakistan Air Force be worthy of Pakistan,” From the fledgling unit flying mostly WWII aircraft, Asghar Khan molded the PAF into tremendous fighting entity. The professional and disciplined force the Quaid envisaged proved its mettle when tested in 1965, getting the better of an enemy having many more sophisticated aircraft and weaponry.  Numbered among the world’s very best air forces, PAF is renowned for its fighting capabilities and professional competence. The Quaid would have been proud that at least one of his aspirations of the country he created seven decades earlier come true.

A straight shooting person of rare qualities, Asghar Khan persevered with the criteria of merit and qualification in matters of promotion or posting in the PAF, and later in PIA, to quote Wikipedia, “ensuring that the best qualified officers needed to fill the key appointments, particularly in the combat units.” While he ruffled feathers he never wavered from the high principles and values he held himself to.

Never taking undue privilege of his rank and status, this officer and gentleman from the old school diligently followed rules and etiquette that are no longer fashionable, almost a rarity today. He retired on July 23, 1965 because even though he was the PAF Chief, he (and the Naval Chief) were kept in the dark about the impending launch of the disastrous “Operation Gibraltar”. Another capable and outstanding aviator Air Marshal Nur Khan succeeded him, under his leadership the lean, mean fighting machine that Asghar Khan built drastically changed the balance of the 1965 war with India into our favour.

As Chief Executive Officer (CEO) PIA after retirement, Asghar Khan transformed it into a highly profitable organization. Inducting new fleets of modern jets he opened up new air routes, giving a new look uniform to cabin crews.  Boasting the lowest accident rates, PIA earned the highest net profit and became one of the most competitive airlines in the world. Along with Nur Khan’s tenure later as Chairman this was a golden era for PIA, the airline literally living up to its slogan, “Great People to Fly With!” Thereafter the national airline went to the dogs, becoming associated with nepotism, corruption and inefficiency. PIA now exists solely for the benefit of whoever happens to be running the govt, oblivious to the losses incurred worth billions year after year. It provides gainful employment to scores of supremely incompetent and uneducated political sycophants who are at best leeches.

A strong opponent of military rule and a believer in fair play. Entering the political arena in 1968 Asghar Khan led many anti-Ayub campaigns in both the wings of Pakistan. Opposing Gen Yahya Khan’s subsequent Martial Law, he returned the national awards bestowed upon him in protest. Forming the Tehreek-i-Istiqlal (TI) in 1970, he contested the 1970 general elections but failed to secure any seats in Parliament. During ZA Bhutto’s rule, he was a major figure in the Opposition, allying his party with the Pakistan National Alliance (PNA). Called ‘a prisoner of conscience’ by Amnesty International (AI) after being incarcerated under house arrest from 1979 to 1984 for opposition to Gen Zia-ul-Haq’s iron rule, his political career did not lead him to the corridors of power.

To quote the late Ardeshir Cowasjee in July 2002, “As an old-time officer and a gentleman to his fingertips, as an honest man of moderate means, and as a man who genuinely wished to do good by the poverty-stricken, uneducated of this country, there was no way, no way at all, that Air Marshal Asghar Khan could succeed as a politician of Pakistan, given the environment, the atmosphere that prevails and the mindset of the majority”, unquote. Having served with distinction, sincerity and integrity he paid quite a stiff price for his beliefs and views. Asghar Khan will remain a prime example of why it does not pay to preach and practice morality in politics in Pakistan.

Purchasing the Defence Journal (DJ) from Brig A R Siddiqui on the advice of Brig Tafazzul Siddiqui, one felt it needed having a respected ex-serviceman of some stature as CHIEF PATRON.  While among those servicemen that I looked upto as my role models were, other than my platoon commander in PMA Lt Gen Imtiaz Ullah Warraich, Lt Gen Lehrasab Khan, Lt Gen Ali Kuli Khan, Maj Gen Hedayatullah Khan Niazi, Brig Muhammad Taj SJ & Bar and Col SG Mehdi, for me the only option was the Air Marshal.  After a thorough consultation with Col SG Mehdi, the Air Marshal Asghar Khan agreed to come on to the Defence Journal’s masthead as its CHIEF PATRON.  Even in death he will remain alive in DJ.

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OUR TRUMP CARD

Because of US sanctions economic assistance has been suspended before, military sales terminated, etc. Reacting to US President Donald Trump’s New Year tweet, Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif vowed the Pakistani audience telling the Wall Street Journal that “we are no longer allies” and that “Washington had turned Islamabad into a whipping boy for its failures in Afghanistan”. The DG ISPR brought the rhetoric pitch down by responding quite firmly but more prudently, very noticeably keeping the door for cooperation open.

Do all the US intelligence resources confirm that our contact with the Haqqanis is now more than a dialogue? An independent verification will find their physical presence on Pakistani soil being eliminated, or almost so.  India played its “trump card” by finally convincing the US that the CPEC is a threat to US long-term interests in the region. With the Afghan Govt in an advanced stage of disarray because of increased Taliban activity and severe internal Pakistan-Tajik-Uzbek divisions, why is the US persisting in throwing money (and American lives) down this black hole being sensitive to the Chinese presence? We are faced with a double whammy here, with US and Indian interests unfortunately coinciding in their strategy to contain China, the US National Security Council is staffed in some strength by US citizens of Indian origin. Not many in the US know that Nikki Haley, the US Ambassador to the UN, being pure Sikh virulently favours Indian intentions.

The US is sensitive to sustaining casualties, increasing proportionately coming into harm’s way physically taking part in counter-insurgency operations.  India has successfully clubbed the freedom fighters operating against Indian occupation forces in Kashmir with the militants operating in Afghanistan. Egged on by incessant India and Afghan propaganda, Pakistan is the perfect “fall guy”. To be fair the US has still been very careful describing their primary concern as directed against those militants supporting the Afghan Taliban.

Gen David Petraeus the US Commander in Afghanistan before he became Director CIA, publicly stated there was no evidence of Pakistan’s role in destabilising Afghanistan, Former US Secretary Defence Chuck Hagel confirmed that India was creating problems in Pakistan. As US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton testified in Congress that Pakistan was let down by the US.  The Khawaja Asif knee-jerk reaction notwithstanding, we must keep our cool. While Pakistan should not roll over and play dead, pragmatism and prudence must prevail with the issue being debated by both the National Assembly and the Senate. Spouting jingoistic rhetoric is cheap, but getting into confrontation with the US on any front political, economic, or military, will be counter-productive. Many of the present US policies have drawn criticism from the American people. The Jan 5 New York Times editorial warned that irrespective of the differences, Trump should reconsider, to quote “President Trump cannot afford to walk away from Pakistan, which has often provided vital intelligence and has the world’s fastest-growing nuclear arsenal. Whether Pakistan will cooperate after the aid freeze remains to be seen. Initially some Pakistani officials reacted harshly but on Friday a Foreign Ministry statement talked about the need for mutual respect and patience as the two countries address common threats” Unquote.

Confrontation is not an option except in the event of an armed incursion into our territory, self-defence will leave us no choice but to defend ourselves.  The ground route and airspace permissions will then be automatically excluded.  We should be able to convincingly refute the evidence of terror groups US alleges Pakistan is harbouring, on our part the terrorist activity within Pakistan makes it incumbent in our own interest to get rid of such groups. The US will eventually come to the hometruth that a strong and vibrant Pakistan is critical to its interests in the region, there is no solution in Afghanistan without Pakistan.

It is alleged we have got US$33 billion in US aid since 9/11, Dr Hafiz Pasha says, “According to the Washington-based Centre for Global Development, almost $22 billion, equivalent to a two-thirds, has been in the nature of security assistance, mostly reimbursements for the Coalition Support Fund (CSF). The remaining $11 billion (or one-third) can be classified as economic assistance or aid. During the Musharraf Government, total assistance received was close to $12 billion. The Kerry-Lugar Bill US peaked during the tenure of the PPP Government with $16 billion disbursed in five years. Dr Pasha has a worst case economic scenario with the only option Pakistan has will be approaching the IMF for a Program. Impossible prior actions demanded by IMF could include steep devaluation, big hike in tax rates and power tariffs and so on.  Can we afford these?

With 3 million Afghans, including 1.6 million unregistered ones, on our soil, security officials have constantly been warning, about Da’ish presence in border areas ‘as a threat to national security’. Among other factors, Donald Trump’s promise to deport 11 million illegal immigrants struck a chord among a wide swath of the US electorate. Vociferously supporting his building the “Mexican Wall” to keep immigrants out, they propelled him to the US Presidency. The Federal Cabinet on January 3 granted a short extension to the refugees after expiry of their stay on December 31, 2017. The cabinet members belonging to the Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (JUI-F) – Maulana Amir Zaman and Akram Khan Durrani – who usually support the refugees, also kept mum. Confining refugees to their camps attempted by the Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) government in 2016 led to the repatriation of about 500,000 refugees, the highest-ever figure to date. Afghan Refugees Executive Council Chief Abdul Ghaffar Shinwari said, “We praise Pakistani government for hosting us for several decades but we should not be targeted due to the ongoing disturbances between the two countries.  Pakistan should allow Afghan refugees who were willing to return but in a dignified manner, to stay on its soil”. India should show their “great love” for the Afghan people by taking a million refugees, at least a token 10000?  Given our affinity to the Afghan people, a flexible visa regime is being considered where one or two members of a family would be issued visas on Afghan passports while the rest of the family would be repatriated.

Keeping our cool taking and a pragmatic stand, we must try and repair ties with the US without compromising on our self-respect. While it is not something we would like to do but very much in keeping with US President’s absolute determination to deport all illegal immigrants, the repatriation of Afghan refugees happens to be our “Trump card”, pun intended.

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ASPIRATIONS FOR 2018

Events of national significance tend to linger on in our combined memories for some time, even then 2018 ushered in hopes of erasing some of our concerns and disappointments.  The indications of the opportunities that have emerged despite the challenges are still imperceptible, even then 2018 promises to be a year of hope and resurgence viz, (1) most likely witnessing the third consecutive general elections in Pakistan, possibly delayed by a few months (2) Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification making the political playing field more competitive, changing the political landscape for the better and (3) the superior judiciary asserting itself  in no uncertain terms, well on its way to being what it should be, one of the strongest pillars of the State.

Besides being an economic game-changer for Pakistan, the significant geo-political changes taking place in the region because of the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is best symbolized by the growing Russian-China-Pakistan cooperation. China-Pakistan military exercises are routine, but the ground-breaking Russian-Pakistan ones are certainly not.    One should not expect Russia to abandon its deep rooted long-term relationship with India but certainly its blind support is a thing of the past.

Our relationship with China has deepened because of China’s strategic compulsions. On national security issues the civil and military leadership are on the same page, not only in dealing with India and Afghanistan but with the world powers, the US and Russia and in the immediate region. The measured joint civil-military response to US President Donald Trump’s recent tweet is a case in point, the operative word being KYC (keep your cool). We cannot be held hostage by the academic input of a few powerful intellectual elite, among them a handful of arrogant former diplomats, who pontificate about foreign policy “shortcomings” while feeding the counsel of our fears (to paraphrase Field Marshal Slim) from his book “Unofficial History”,  whereas on the other hand our recent foreign policy successes have shown that to quote another Slim adage, “it pays to be bold”.

Without effective participation of citizens in the affairs of even their own community, our present democracy is a sham.  A stable democratic system can only be possible with participation of ordinary citizens in the decision-making process. Without electoral reforms providing a level playing field we will never be able to fight poverty, feudalism and extremism. Moreover, indirect elections are a farce, the Senate is a shameful symbol of our sham democracy. Can those who are not elected by adult franchise be truly representative of the federating units?

The nexus of corruption with organised crime and terrorism is a worldwide phenomenon.   Judicious use of technology must counter “terror financing” from the siphoning off of monies donated to charities. While certainly admiring those making legitimate profits from commerce and industry, we must target proceeds illegally acquired through corruption, fraud and deceit. This includes manipulation of the Stock Exchange by unscrupulous brokers. Monies fuelling terrorism must answer for the blood of innocents and cannot be allowed to be legitimised by using the Zardari-sponsored bogey of “provincial autonomy!” Accountability requires all the assets of those in our elite society awash with illegal gains to be confiscated.

Arbitrary or wide discretionary powers in practice today makes the rule of law impossible to prevail in Pakistan. Equality before the law or the equal subjection of all classes to the ordinary laws of the land must be duly administered by the courts. Justice can easily be subverted by influence and/or money presently.  The rich and powerful must be held accountable, the accused must not be allowed to hide behind technicalities exploited by clever lawyers while the poor who cannot afford them suffer.  Judicial prevarication must stop, the old saying ‘justice delayed is justice denied’ holds true. To be truly credible accountability must not be selective and should be applicable to all, the corrupt among the judiciary and the Armed Forces  included.  My Jan 1, 2009 quote on corruption is still applicable today,  “Corruption and accountability remain a major challenge. Even-handed accountability without exception must strike at the roots of corruption without bias. The National Accountability Board (NAB’s) anti-corruption mechanism not compromised by selective application for personal and/or political purpose. Justice must be made simple and inexpensive.  What is the reason for extremism except lack of fair play in justice and frustration at seeing the corrupt prospering?” Can we by default accept that the corruption codified by “Pakistan-First” Musharraf’s infamous National Reconciliation Order (NRO), force-multiplied subsequently by Zardari’s corruption-ridden Presidential years, be given legal cover?” unquote.

To quote my article “Wishes for 2017” of Dec 30, 2016, “The calibre and integrity of the incoming Chief Justice of Supreme Court, Mian Saqib Nisar, does not merit the insidious slander campaign on the social media. Given his track record, one knows that the incoming Chief Justice will not be selective in being deaf, dumb and blind,” unquote.  One reiterates with great satisfaction and pride what I wrote then, “Mian Saqib Nisar is literally Pakistan’s last hope, he must remain true to his integrity and character and to his calling”. Similarly with the calm and effective presence of Justice Javed Iqbal as Chairman NAB, those testing his patience and commitment to eradicate corruption may find it hard to survive.  In fact the present conduct and commitment of the entire superior judiciary is something to be proud of.

The Army is doing exemplary work fighting terrorism and extremism, firmness in the selection and the maintenance of its aim requires the military to wipe out not only the vestiges of militancy in both political and religious camouflage but all the extraneous forces and factors subscribing to it.   The military momentum directed against terrorism in the Pakistani heartland, particularly in southern and central Punjab, must continue. The sacrifices of our soldiers in the most successful counter-insurgency at the present time has made Pakistan today a much safer place. On a different analogy, we must take decisions, we vacillated too long past the fail-safe point in 1971, we cannot, to quote Richard Nixon, “debate a decision to death”.

The superior judiciary must take notice of attempts to gamble with the existence of the State by the consistent targeting of its vital institutions, particularly by politicians who are well on the way of becoming convicts. The responsibility of governance is a sacred trust that no individual or entity has the right to sacrifice at the altar of personal survival and greed.   Can any individual be greater than the nation he (or she) has been given the opportunity by Divine Providence to govern?

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ELECTIONS 2018

Squabbling and endlessly bickering on issues not of any public importance, our parliamentarians may clamour passionately for early elections, yet not enough senators showed up for weeks to enable a quorum to pass an amendment to the Constitution clearing the way for delimitation of National Assembly (NA) constituencies based on the results of the recent national census till Dec 19. This removed a major hurdle for holding elections on schedule. For this very sensitive task; the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) had set a Nov 10 deadline estimating at least five months being needed to use the provisional census data to carry out fresh delimitation of constituencies.

Theoretically elections could be held on time in July/Aug 2018 provided a number of challenges are overcome. Will the ECP be able to prepare credible electoral rolls on time considering that if re-checking of the census data  conducted in some constituencies is required to determine the accuracy (or otherwise)? Incorrect or flawed data for any reason, would require additional work. The drawing up of new constituencies is already the cause of resentment and anger among political parties, it stands to reason that the process must be transparent and above board without controversy. This will allow the electoral process to go on smoothly and create minimum room for agitation and protest before, during and after the election.

The ongoing controversy relating to former Prime Minister (PM) Mian Nawaz Sharif and his immediate family members adds to the problems, this will multiply near their certain conviction. Ever since the Supreme Court (SC)  disqualified the former PM and ordered a criminal investigation into his immediate family members over corruption allegations in July this year, he has been crying foul and decrying judges of the superior judiciary, even going to the extent recently of claiming “they have been hand in glove with dictators over the last 70 years”. Not once has he answered the corruption charges against him.  He conveniently forgets that not only was he sponsored into politics by a military dictator but it was the Establishment that brought him into the PM’s seat in the first place.   Loyalists of his political party and his family members used abusive language and openly threatened the judges with dire consequences while passing snide innuendos against the Army.

There is method behind the madness of hurling invectives against the institutions of the state, the former PM wants the delaying of his case for as long as may be possible. His appearances before the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) court  have been spread out by his choosing, having to travel to London on a very frequent basis. His latest ploy has been to announce the organization of a movement which he ironically calls the ‘restoration of justice in Pakistan’, we seem to have short memories about Nov 1997 when PML-N leaders and workers stormed the SC building forcing the then Chief Justice Syed Sajjad Ali Shah to adjourn the contempt of court case against the then PM Nawaz Sharif.  How can those who physically attack the highest form of justice in the land govern the state?  Having these corruption cases linger on, on one pretext or the other, will adversely effect the upcoming elections.

The 2017 Census, the first since 1998, has changed the entire dynamics of equation in the urban and rural spheres, including job quotas, it showed the population surging to a staggering 207.8 million, an increase of 75.4 million people in 19 years with the majority of people, 52.9% living in the Punjab. Pakistan’s predominant majority – 132.189 million or 63.6% – still lives in rural areas whereas Sindh came out as the most urbanised province having 52.02% population in urban areas.

The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and  the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) in Sindh have made the 2017 census controversial by claiming that their province had been undercounted. The govt agreed to a third-party audit of selected blocs equivalent to 1% the population, this was rejected by the MQM-P who demanded 5% census blocs be audited. The Council of Common Interests (CCI) had conceded to these reservations but as the exercise will now have to cover more constituencies requiring additional time and effort, it remains pending. Independent observers are of the view that six to seven months would be needed to conduct an audit for 5% blocs. On its part the govt believes this can be done in three months.

A major problem lies in the manner and timings of the Senate elections are held. The term of Senate members is for six years, since the 2003 elections half of the 104 seats i.e. 52 seats are held after every three years as the process of Senate elections is designed in such a manner that the term of half of the members expires after every three years. The next elections are scheduled to be held in March 2018.   If the assembles were to elect the members of the Senate now, it will not be truly representative of the electorate because of the great changes in the census results, these elections will not depict the actual situation on ground. The first-past-the-post system ensures that a powerful minority will always come to power, this is the case in more than 80% of the seats in our National and Provincial assemblies. With majority of the people becoming frustrated about ever obtaining power on our pattern of election which favours a powerful minority, less and less people tend to go out to vote. This abstention constitutes a default by which a powerful minority is eventually transformed into a majority. With 15 million votes, less than ie 7.5% of the population, Mian Nawaz Sharif claims to represent the entire electorate.  Consider then what will the new Senate represent. Our electoral process must reflect true democracy, the present system is nothing but a sham and a hypocrisy. The numbers involved and the clear choice between two candidates in a “run-off vote” makes an election difficult to rig and manipulate.

Instead of making the elections controversial and adding to our problems, elections should be deferred with consultations among all stakeholders, this delay will also allow elongation of the Senate’s life for a short time, maybe six time months. The delay is required under the doctrine of necessity of good governance, this is not a theoretical premise but a pragmatic proposition to ward off the possibility of severe problems cropping up. Whatever we do must target of ending of the present state of uncertainty.

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SHORT-CIRCUITING INVESTMENT

During the 1980s the shortfall between electricity generated and consumers’ demand in Karachi widened to unmanageable proportions. Rampant over-staffing compounded by excessive non-core workers, a demoralized workforce and misaligned management objectives all combined to create hurdles in the utility company’s functioning.

For a short time KESC was stabilized by the senior management brought in by the Army after Gen Musharraf’s 1999 coup. Detachments deployed in the field uncovering illegal connections, recovering unpaid bills, etc were rightly given cash incentives. However why (and who) in the senior management were given a major part of these “incentives” and why was no record about these cash transactions kept? Given this huge cash windfall, did they pay taxes on it? With the management thus dipping their hands into the revenues, KESC went back to the bad old days.

Things became ugly with privatisation in 2005 when politically-connected labour unions with vested interests who were a law unto themselves, protested violently and attacked senior staffers while vandalizing KESC property. Handing over operations to a third party by the new owners not being management-oriented themselves proved disastrous. With the system overloaded, the infra-structure started to crumble, pilferages multiplied and revenues dried up, mainly because of incompetent, inefficient and corrupt management only interested in lining their own pockets through all-pervasive corrupt practices.

By 2009 Karachi was close to crossing the fail-safe line into chaos and anarchy with continuous and unannounced rampant load-shedding. Acute law and order problems and no-go areas within the city hampered recovery efforts in many areas, the combined distribution loss was exceedingly high. Rising population in the mega city and mushroom growth with multistory buildings made meeting of the consumer demand uncertain.  However a Dubai-based multi-national took a calculated risk that the KESC “black hole” could be turned around into a profit center. Subsequently the new owners re-named KESC K-Electric (KE).

Without the new owners taking out a single paisa in dividends or fees or charges, KE executed a landmark turnaround whereby PKR 130 billion was invested in Karachi’s power infrastructure to add over 1,000 MW of new generation capacity, reduce T&D losses by over 14%, as a result 62% of Karachi today is exempt from load-shed. Exempted from load-shedding there are signs Karachi’s huge industry sector is becoming competitive again. Instrumental in the govt attracting Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) to Pakistan, KE’s turnaround has been show-cased by the World Bank in a joint case study between the Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School.

KE’s success encouraged Shanghai Electric Power (SEP) signing a definitive agreement to acquire a stake in KE in October 2016, subject to regulatory and other govt approvals. One of the largest power generation companies in China with a total installed capacity of 9.4 GW, SEP is a subsidiary of State Power Investment Corporation of China (SPIC), a Fortune 500 company and one of China’s big five state-owned power generation groups with an overall installed capacity of 107 GW. SEP has presented a US$ 9 billion investment plan to both the regulator and the govt to resolve Karachi’s power issues and assist in economic development. The transaction has yet to be completed despite passage of 14 months due to stumbling blocks in the shape of regulatory and bureaucratic processes.

The National Electric Power Regulating Authority (NEPRA) has determined a tariff (for the next 7 years) reducing base tariff by 22.5% and also changing the tariff structure. KE contends the new tariff is unrealistic and will result in cumulative losses of over PKR 140 billion over the next 7 years – setting it back by decades. KE’s impaired ability to invest in the power infrastructure will affect consumers, with: (1) escalation of load shedding–impacting on the law and order situation as well as national security given Karachi status as Pakistan’s only port city and (2) drastic reduction in quality, reliability and availability of power supply. As a long-term strategic investor SEP has potential to change the outlook of Pakistan’s power sector. Abandoning of the potential investment to SEP will also severely impact investor confidence and future FDI in Pakistan. A review of the MYT must be undertaken and if viable, replaced by a performance-based tariff regime that maintains a similar level and structure as the company’s previous Multi-Year Tariff (MYT). To avoid controversy, why not an independent evaluation by an international consultant with known expertise in determining tariffs?

SEP plans to achieve operational and financial excellence is the single largest investment in Pakistan ever. NEPRA’s unflinching decision may prevent that from happening. SEP is committed to introducing technologies and equipment that will help reduce transmission and distribution losses, much like what it had done in Estonia – cutting system losses from 14% to 9% within one year. At a meeting of the Council of Pakistan Newspaper Editors (CPNE) with Prime Minister (PM) of Pakistan in Islamabad on Monday last, the role of the power utility in improving law and order situation was discussed. CPNE members voiced their concern about K-Electric’s tariff being significantly reduced which would frustrate its ability to sustain its operation or invest in power infrastructure in future.

According to CPNE Press Release, “the PM said the Govt understands the need for Investment in Power Infrastructure of Karachi and its implications on everyday life of Karachi and the economy of Pakistan. Fully aware of K-Electric’s issue he assured the group that GOP supports a right tariff regime for KE, which ensures continuity of government policies, provides incentives for performance improvement and offers reasonable return. The acquisition by SEP, the largest investment by a single company in Pakistan, will encourage foreign investment in the country and will be a game changer in the power sector of the country. A strategic power utility operator SEP will benefit Karachi by an improved and reliable supply of power. He also highlighted that GOP owns 24% share in KE and hence has vested interest in KE as a shareholder. Above all, smooth and reliable supply of power is of utmost importance to GOP”, unquote.

Those dealing with national security know very well the old concept of defending one’s frontiers only is now no more valid, national security must include countering the country’s enemies waging an undeclared “hybrid” war attempting to subvert the ideology, destroy socio-economic facilities, derail the economy, compromise the media and media personnel, foment the attacking of institutions like the judiciary and the Army that form the pillars of the State, etc, etc. Why indeed the short-circuiting of investment that is badly needed for preventing Karachi descending again into anarchy by the deliberate fudging of figures, and by whom?

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