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Archive for August, 1988

A Concept in Cooperation

The essence of society as we understand it is that it is based on cooperation and understanding between individuals and like-minded groups. Human beings have an inherent penchant to extend help to other human beings and in the ultimate analysis even the basis for Islamic society is mutual cooperation on a comprehensive basis laid down in detail in the Holy Quran. While all this may be natural, the successful harnessing of the cooperative instinct for material benefits and the consolidation of this process along organised, scientific lines is the basis for Cooperative Societies. At the very basics, Cooperatives can be extremely helpful to those that don’t have the inherent ability for either entering into entrepreneurship of any kind or if the ability is there, to expand the scope of its horizons, whether it be in business, industry or in the agriculture sectors. It is an all-inclusive benefit scheme meant mainly for the have-nots of society. Being an agriculture-based economy, Pakistan’s main thrust in the Cooperative field has been in farming and the imperative need to create a suitable monetary system to ensure desperately needed adequate cash flow to the small-unit subsistence farmer.

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Keeping one’s cool

Advertisement is basically propaganda, the science of converting the feelings of a targeted entity towards a particular belief. At this point of time we are being subjected as a nation — and a religion, to sophisticated and adverse propaganda, literally inviting reaction. The western media is being fed with an irrational viewpoint that the wave of Islamic resurgence for the past decade is the modern version of the Muslim on horseback holding the world at ransom with his scimitar. Whereas in the western world it is considered fashionable to search and identify with one’s roots (a la Haley or for that matter, Dukakis), one’s fundamentals so to say, this same penchant is looked on with deep suspicion whenever Islam is involved. An intricate smear campaign has been particularly mounted against our Armed Forces as an institution, both internally and externally, with certain voluble and immature neophytes in political circles being used as puppets on a string by those vested interests who would rather do without a strong and credible Pakistan Army. Our major political leaders of all shades have, however, shown great maturity by not indulging in similar muck-raking. Some blatant misconceptions are already being floated around externally, the modern sword toted in Pakistan’s hand being depicted as a nuclear bomb. As propaganda goes, these canards must rank as the most successful of efforts at misinformation ever planted universally into the educated human psyche, the picture of Muslims as a modern day terrorists, capable of demolishing the world with their suspected cache of nuclear weapons. Sadly, we may have contributed unwittingly to these preposterous suggestions by our on-going search for the fundamental basis in our religion. This has not been helped by our share of kooks holding forth from time to time. As the Iran-Iraq war winds down to a ceasefire, the ending in a stalemate of this horrific entanglement only brings to focus the unreasoning basis for continuing fighting for over eight years, exposing our religion to western contempt — and universal suspicion, other than the awesome human and material damage inflicted on each other.

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A state of limbo

Pakistan is frozen (during a long hot summer) in a state of political limbo emanating from a singular test of wills between certain unbending forces. The economic effect of this freeze – frame is the continuing flight of capital to safer havens. This economically excruciating phenomenon is being repeated twice this year, once when our erstwhile investment companies took wings while the Finance Ministry’s bureaucracy looked on in benign fashion and now as a somewhat confused reaction to the Finance Minister’s taxation proposals. Complicated by the perception of indecisiveness in the political sector, the melting pot in Pakistan is close to reaction, with adventurism of the Third Kind always omnipresent and lurking somewhere in the gray area of unknown intangibles. Such a situation should have made it fatal for our economic well-being but lo and behold, the much maligned economic sector still manages to boom along, with nary a bust in sight, inflation and unemployment notwithstanding. Long live the black economy and in the circumstances, more power to it, howsoever else one may malign it, the engine of State is kept chugging along because of it, in total contrast to the accepted economic indicators of doom. This is all very well for the short run but black money has the Octopus-like capacity to devour the real economy and coupled with a sustained vacuum in the political life of a nation, is anathema for its economic destiny.

Known for his political sagacity, the President seemed to be running out of options till he came up with the Election date followed closely by his party-based party-less Election gambit. Surely but slowly he is regaining the initiative and come end September, when the worst of the ensuing floods will be in full swing in Pakistan, he should have re-established himself on the political high ground and if previous experience is a measure, the political parties should be in disarray by then. While the political parties may have under-estimated his special ability to remain cool and unperturbed under fire they may yet surprise everyone by remaining united till what they perceive to be the PART-ly elections in a bid to show a common front in their desperation to shorten the President’s political career. The President’s call to his natural constituency of the Great Silent Majority remains un-answered at this time but the winds do change during Autumn and anything may happen between now and November 16. As the present scenario unfolds, the political parties will probably either all go to the Supreme Court and presumably they will get a verdict in their favour for Party-based polls – but then what? The President could then conceivably have the option to postpone the elections and put up the matter to the general populace for referendum. In the end, referendum or not, one cannot escape the logic of the argument that each public representative needs to be elected by a majority of his constituents on his/her own merit and not depend on somebody else’s coat-tails (or Kameez). The allotment of election symbols on party basis is in fact counter-productive to the democratic process because it asks the individual to choose the party rather than the individual whereas it is individuals who combine to make a party and the individual should not be dependant upon the party to get oneself elected in one’s constituency. Particularly in a third world country where the rate of illiteracy is so high and the populace can be easily swayed by populist slogans by (what the President lovingly refers to as) “pressure groups”, it is important that the individual should get elected on merit so that he (or she) can justify his/her election to the constituency he/she represents. If the slogans and the media can have an all-pervasive influence on electioneering in the US of A, where the pragmatic and honest policies annunciated by Governor Bruce Babitt resulted in his getting the short end of the shrift right in the beginning of the Democratic Primaries, it speaks volumes for what the absence of tall (and false) electioneering promises can do for the aspirations of any candidate in Pakistan, or for that matter in any third world country. Certainly Party symbols have no constitutional imperative behind it and the logic and thrust of President Zia’s arguments evolve on that basis. On the other hand the logic being utilised by the political parties also carries merit inasfar as they seek to bring their like-minded candidates on a single slate into the National Assembly and, therefore, the elections certainly need to be Party-based. The Democratic aspirations can only be translated into reality through either Proportional Representation (PR) and/or run-off Second round elections meant to secure the choice of a simple majority of total voters in a single constituency when ultimately faced with two stark choices instead of the multiple ones in the first round. It is a costly process but much more economical than the present arrangement which tends to elect candidates on ethnic, religious, sectarian and parochial lines, laying the germs of future conflict. To this logic further, the Senate is an august body and has honourable members but the Senators also need to be elected on the basis of adult franchise to rid themselves of the taint of having come to the Senate on purchased Provincial Assembly votes. Most of the Senators do have the capability of being elected on that basis, conceivably only a few technocrats may be effected – and to ensure technocrats also have a say in government, some formula can be devised to ensure their representations. The Social Democrats in UK usually get about 20-23% of the popular vote and less than 4% of the seats in Parliament which means to say that a good 16-19% of the populace have no say in the English Parliament, what to talk of the Government. If there is a case for Proportional Representation in UK, there is much more a democratic case of it in third world countries like Pakistan. Once the rules are thus defined, let the best man (or woman) win. Incidentally, do they have election symbols in UK or USA for candidates in General Elections ?

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Reinforcing success

Four months ago, almost to the day, THE NATION advised Dr Mahbubul Haq to take a week off and go to Bangladesh to explore the virtues of “THE ECONOMICS OF TOGETHERNESS”. He may have read the article and taken the advice or simply got an inspiration from heaven, but he returned from Dhaka not only imbued with a Messianic fervour to enlarge the trade with Bangladesh but having taken concrete and substantial steps towards that direction. His batteries having been simultaneously and sufficiently recharged by a well-deserved short break (after the debilitating effects of events leading upto the 1988 Federal Budget and after), the good doctor can take pride in solidifying a trade structure that Pakistan needed to put into place and which should be used as an example for other bilateral trade agreements.

Lest one forgets the architects of the 1988 Pakistan-Bangladesh trade happening they need to be mentioned. Two bureaucrats, one each from Pakistan and Bangladesh, men of far-sighted vision and honesty, in 1983 laid the foundations of this excellent economic arrangement, the credit of finally achieving of which must definitely go to Dr Mahbubul Haq as it is he who cut across the red tape and inherent obstructionism among the gnomes burrowed deep within the Ministries of Commerce and Finance in Pakistan, one of the advantages of being a concurrent incumbent. One must record that it was Mr. Mohammad Yousuf, who as the Chairman of the Trading Corporation of Pakistan (TCP) set the ball rolling in 1983, the principal collaboration from the Bangladeshi side coming from Mr Nurul Hasan Khan, the then Consul General of the People’s Republic of Bangladesh in Karachi, presently Secretary Telephone and Telegraphs, Government of Bangladesh. Both these outstanding men need to have their selfless performance recognised and their perseverance commended. In an atmosphere of utter sincerity and without singular motivation, both these persons recognized the deep-rooted logic for such an arrangement and the groundwork was thus laid, the ensuing process slow but steady till disaster in the form of the previous Chairman was dumped on the TCP, one of the vagaries of having a brother in a position of inordinate influence, conceivably even without his knowledge. Whether for parochial reasons, sheer cussedness or whatever, he turned his sinecure before retirement into a vendetta against trade with Bangladesh (among other venting of his natural frustrations against exports in general), and the nett result was that the TCP-TCB STA came to a virtual standstill, utilised only in bits and parts by third parties and only when extremely necessary or when faced with no other options. In fact TCP’s total exports simultaneously nose-dived to the zero mark as a new import-oriented philosophy, contrary to the avowed purpose of TCP’s economic existence, safe on individual money-making, obviating any export risk-taking, symbolized by the great UNDOK sugar deal, came into existence. Mr M M Usmani, the new Chairman TCP, fresh in the saddle with less than two months in the chair and unencumbered by such prejudices, has come back from Bangladesh with almost US$20 million exports in ready business and another US$15 million to be done within the next six months. TCP finally seems to be arousing from its Rip Van Winkle existence which included eating cannibal-like its capital resources.

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