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Archive for March, 1989

A view from Bangor, Maine

Almost nobody in Pakistan has heard of the city of Bangor in the State of Maine, USA. It is as far as one can go north in the mainland of the States and till recently was a base for the Strategic Air Command, as one lands at the international airport (direct flights to London also) one can see a clutch of KC-135 aerial tankers to one side. People in Bangor, Maine have heard about Pakistan though — mostly because of our PM, Ms Benazir Bhutto, witness the couple who asked us in the lift how she is faring and whether we were proud of her!

Bangor is a far enough place but not far enough to go and see a garbage to electricity project (a third world dream for cheap energy) — but the refrain about our return to democracy and the chord struck in the hearts of the American public for Ms Benazir was unambiguous, can we dare translate her international credibility and undeniable charisma into economic boon for Pakistan? Ms Benazir is her own mistress and the economic future of this teeming millions of this country are firmly in her hands, for a change for any leader of Pakistan she has the international community rooting for her and any mis-steps will have to be seen with a jaundiced eye, so much has she going for her. It is necessary to take stock of the situation rapidly and in the next 60 days lay down the foundations of a liberal economic policy, long on practical proposals and short on bureaucratic controls, that will carry us over the next decade well into the 21st century.

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Dovetailing Populism into the Economy

It is impossible for politicians to take hard decisions not in consonant with the populist promises made during the run-up to the elections. In the cold light of day one finds that it is difficult, having promised the moon, to settle for cheese. Perforce many are reduced to simply ignoring any pledges given during the passions of the election process or simply giving lip-service with a drum-beat and a flourish. Unfortunately for the poor souls at the bottom end of the spectrum, all this spells more misery, complicated by the hope generated by unreal promises.

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India super?

We are having a hard time with both our usual international news magazines, TIME and NEWSWEEK. Hardly over the Salman Rushdie affair, NEWSWEEK carried a depiction of our Prophet (PBUH), the blasphemy ensuring that the issue did not reach Pakistani newsstands as it was duly proscribed by the Government. TIME magazine of April 3, 1989 did reach us and one wishes we could also consign it to the dustbin because the cover story by Ross Munro with the descriptive caption “SUPER INDIA”, a PSY-WAR piece intended to inform (1) India’s neighbours that we should accept Indian hegemony as a fait accompli and (2) the world that any Indian adventure in this region must be deemed to be acceptable (PAX INDIA-NA). TIME magazine barely maintains its credibility as an impartial chronicler of events by its gloved criticism of recent instances of Indian gunboat diplomacy, even the guarded language seems to be a sleight of hand designed to further the acceptability of Indian actions in the future.

In this region, India is certainly the dominant power to contend with, its defence establishment eclipsing in numerical terms many times over all the forces of all its immediate neighbours except China. The bulk of these forces are concentrated on a 5:1 ratio against Pakistan. While the greatest mass of poverty concentrated in the world is in India, millions of people below the hunger line exceeding the total population of its neighbours by five to one, its defence establishment soaks up billions of US dollars for no apparent reason except the blind ambition to perpetuate its hegemony. All this is reflected ultimately in a desire browbeat its neighbours. Take today for instance, Indian forces in Sri Lanka, now estimated to be upwards of 100,000 (at least 70,000 combatants) do not seem to have intention of going back, in the Maldives they exist as a Praetorian bodyguard for the ruling elite and are engaged in an economic blockade of Nepal in total disregard for international norms. Pakistan is subject to infiltration by RAW agents in the province of Sindh, spreading mayhem and terror, very much in the pattern of successful violence they patronised (and are still patronising) through surrogates in Sri Lanka and in the Chittagong Hill Tracts of Bangladesh. Bangladesh is also faced with a nascent movement for an all-Hindu enclave bordering Calcutta and its access to the Bay of Bengal while tens of thousands of unfortunate Bangladeshis drowned in floods which are a direct result of Indian intransigence over the Farakka Barrage.

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Guess who came to lunch?

Economy as a subject is extremely interesting but hardly amusing for third world countries with burgeoning populations and large budget deficits. When the people of such nations elect their leaders, they do so in the hope that ameliorating their miserable lot will be the prime mission, that the elected representatives will buckle down to solving the abject poverty and deprivation widespread among the masses. The people have a right to expect that their economic problems have a greater priority than ill-advised raids and missed lunches. Whatever the provocation, leadership imposes great responsibility on one’s actions, each measured against an unforgiving scale of socio-economic achievement. The two great examples in the last decade or so have been the leaders of China and Russia, life-long communist ideologies having converted onto freer market practices more commonly capitalistic, paying a necessary price of swallowing the bitter pill of opening up their closed societies in order to draw in western financial aid and expertise. The raison d’etre for this volte-face has been the sorry state of their economies, compounded over the years by an inefficient, greedy and immovable bureaucracy devoted to building up their own unapproachable empires within an empire. As an abject example of the horrors of over-centralisation of planning and state control, the communist system exist as living models for not only avoiding the same route but as the major reason for the emphasis now being placed on freeing the economy, to the extent of going totally against the fundamental grain of their ideologies.

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People’s populism

All democracies function on the same theme, power belongs to the people, and yet the peoples’ taste of power is usually confined to feeling the blunt edge of it. The last time around the Peoples Party had taken a number of steps to change the system and to their credit, made fundamental reforms but ultimately Real-Politik caught up with ideals and the system adapted itself to the trappings of power, the people were left awash in the wake, not entirely forgotten perhaps but not VIPs anymore, democracy cresting only on the charisma of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.

The state of our finances is such that any infusion of state funds that do not give a direct return to the people are wasted in the context of the national economy. In any case the paucity of funds has invited conditionalities by the IMF which are anathema to the concept of populism. The Federal Government is, therefore, constrained by varying circumstances in translating promises into actual deeds, this is not in keeping with the raison d’etre for this government which has tried, by launching the Rs 2 billion People’s Programme, to partly redeem the pledge made to the people, a sort of a bridge measure till a full programme can be annunciated in the next budget.

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