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Archive for November, 1988

State of the Economy

Eighteen months ago, the Pakistan Rupee was pegged around 18 to the US dollar, at that stage one felt that it should have been closer to 20. The gap between our perceptions and that of the State Bank of Pakistan has been consistently Rs 2 or 10%, almost as if 10% was the margin kept as “Reserve for Unforeseen”. Creeping devaluation, average rate of paisas 10 every month, has managed to keep a tight control in a volatile Economic situation. Ashraf Janjua, Economic Advisor to the State Bank of Pakistan, had an excellent Question and Answer session with economic journalists on Monday April 24, 1989, it seems both sides learnt to some extent the craft and perceptions of the other. Mr Janjua earlier had given an excellent dissertation of the approach of the State Bank to fiscal policy, his candid views were very refreshing. Though Mr I A Hanfi, the Governor of the State Bank, missed the function due to an unscheduled but fortunately successful operation of the gall bladder, his gall at the scope and intent of even permitting such an open discussion, seldom previously attempted, was exceedingly welcome, no doubt encouraged by the standards of frankness instituted by his predecessor, Mr V A Jafarey, now the Advisor to the PM on Finance.

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Transition

The people of Pakistan managed to pleasantly surprise not only themselves but the whole world. They took part peacefully in free and fair elections sending a strong message for change, without resorting to the normal third world penchant for violence. Not a complete mandate perhaps, but certainly giving legitimacy to the process of democracy. As discordant the voices have been over the past three months, it has been heard sufficiently in chorus now for power to be transferred to the chosen head of the elected representatives of the people, Benazir, who must now become our Prime Minister. The people have spoken, let us not be craven anymore and forfeit the chance she has earned by dint of charisma, long suffering and sheer hard work. The baton must pass and it must be done cleanly, it being important that the changeover should be swift and effected with grace. Delay would lead to suspicion, suspicion to adventurism and so on. We have been that route before and a repeat would not be fair to the people of Pakistan. It is time to close all dark chapters, to look ahead with hope for the future.

Certainly some of the results have been mixed. The largest province of Punjab has been virtually tied. Nawaz Sharif, a relatively political neo-phyte, deserves unreserved credit for sufficiently uniting the opposition to the PPP in a manner that a simple majority was denied to them in the National Assembly, on the other hand it is important for the process of democracy in Pakistan that he makes the important telephone call to Benazir without further delay. Like Benazir he has youth on his side and has now been tested in political battle, let it not be said that he did not rise to the occasion to show the people his real mettle, the courage that accepts defeat with grace, deferring to the wishes of the people. By denying PPP an overwhelming mandate he has already done yeoman’s service for democracy, a strong opposition is the surest check on latent dictatorial urges, one of the hangovers of the headiness of power.

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The day before

Election day in any country begins with universal hope and ends split between unbounded happiness and deep frustration. If the joy of the victors can be tempered with maturity and magnanimity, with sensitivity to the deep disappointment of the defeated, democracy would be the victor. On the other hand, the unwillingness of the vanquished to accept defeat with grace is a sure recipe for disaster. The recent US Presidential Election was epitomized by nastiness of the nth degree with a proliferation of negative ads, the allegations and counter-allegations about which became an election issue by itself. With Vice-President Bush in a clear lead, the polls had hardly closed on mainland USA when Governor Dukakis rang up to concede in what President-Elect George Bush said was “a very warm, personal message”. So ended the election, so began the healing process. This scenario is hardly possible in Pakistan, so while we can hope for miracles at dawn, we must plan for the worst. The people’s verdict needs to be respected whoever comes to power.
While one can forecast the normal reactions on the day after, the very fact that the elections are taking place on the morrow is reason enough to express cautious optimism. Among the people an atmosphere of expectation is generally pervasive in anticipation of casting their vote freely – the elections being as fair as can be. The end result of the waving of flags, swirling of banners, the resounding of cheers and repeated exhortations over countless loudspeakers will all come to a head by late Wednesday evening. By the morning of Thursday, the 17th of November, 1988, many pretenders to political thrones would have bitten the dust and a fresh crop of Parliamentarians would have emerged to oversee the destiny of the nation. The hopes of the people would have translated into effective ballots for their favourite parties and/or candidates. The people will have reason to hope confidently that shortly thereafter the fortunate candidates so selected by the people, the fresh blood so to say, will reciprocate with ability, maturity, purpose, dedication and above all honesty and integrity in discharging their duties towards the electorate.

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Media as an economic force-multiplier

Democracies depend upon the media to maintain the sanctity of trust imposed by the people on any government. Without the media to exercise an effective check, authority has a tendency to go berserk in all senses of the word, combining misuse of powers with nepotism, favouritism and outright corruption. One of the greatest flaws of any kind of dictatorship, military or political and however benign, is the lack of fear among the underlings exposure, causing misdemeanours to multiply and culprits to flourish. Investigative journalism is in fact an institution within the institution of a free Press and given the bounds of many decades of repression and control, the flower of uninhibited enquiry may wilt but has usually survived. That is no mean achievement in Pakistan.

In a country where the radio and TV are government owned and controlled, the media is comprised of the Press alone. Recently the repeal of the “rusted sword”, the PPO, saw a measure of freedom emerge from under the shadow of Damocles. For decades, the Press has conducted almost a solitary battle for freedom despite the PPO’s shackles and the savouring of success is sweet indeed for our country’s newspapers and magazines. In the first flush of victory, it is easy to forget that the institution of investigative reporting needs to be carefully nurtured and enhanced.

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Rural Potential

Pakistan’s economy is primarily agri-based and this is reflected in our inherent capacity for food autarky and in the ability to export cotton and rice, which in fact are our main cash foreign exchange earners, given support lately from fruits and vegetables. For any Third World country this is a significant achievement particularly in view of ever-increasing populations.

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