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Archive for September, 1990

The end game

Opening Narrative — Once the schedule for the 1988 elections was announced, Ms Benazir’s ascent to the PM’s office was largely assured. Though failing in their bid for an absolute majority, the PPP emerged as the largest single party. Cobbling together an unlikely alliance with the MQM, she handily got a vote of confidence once she was asked to form a government by the President.

Ms Benazir confounded her political opponents on many counts, prime among them being that, except for an understandable hang-up about late Gen Ziaul Haq bordering on pathological hatred, she did not embark on any real vendetta. Rather it was some of her more enthusiastic colleagues in the Punjab Province who went for Nawaz Sharif’s jugular vein, ensuring his emergence as a genuine national political leader in his own right and the continued existence of IJI as an alliance. With an absolute majority in Sindh Province, Ms Benazir opted for weak Chief Ministers, ruled over from Islamabad (and Bilawal House in Karachi), some of her neophyte ministers tried an early political coup d’etat in Balochistan that backfired. In NWFP, Aftab Sherpao kept the Provincial PPP growing from strength to strength by following pragmatic policies that should have been emulated by Ms Benazir at the Federal level. The Prime Minister was very accommodating towards the Armed Forces, the mutual respect was very welcome, given that both sides had dire apprehensions about the real intentions of each other. Ms Benazir did not show commensurate patience for the civilian establishment, quite a number of them found themselves as OSDs. At the same time, favourites leap-frogged into key positions, some on lateral basis, the PPP regime was thus not really adored by the entrenched bureaucracy.

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Election 1990 – The end game

Opening Narrative ——————— Once the schedule for the 1988 elections was announced, Ms Benazir’s ascent to the PM’s office was largely assured. Though failing in their bid for an absolute majority, the PPP emerged as the largest single party. Cobbling together an unlikely alliance with the MQM, she handily got a vote of confidence once she was asked to form a government by the President.

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Spreading calculated anarchy

Business in any country thrives in an era of internal peace. Commerce and Industry register real gains during periods of calm and quiet. Law and order problems are an anathema to the business community. Other than physical dislocations, the psychological impact forces (1) money and (2) entrepreneurial skills to take wings, in that order. Money may be retrievable, the loss of entrepreneurial skills leaves more lasting damage to the economy.

For the past several years, Karachi has been beset with internal security problems that have increasingly and directly affected the business community. Seen earlier as a general breakdown of law and order with special emphasis on bank hold-ups, there has been a targeted increase of kidnappings of prominent members of the mercantile community and their scions, causing deep insecurity and despondency in commercial circles in Karachi. More than monetary considerations seem to be behind the kidnappings, more of a vested motivation of the geo-political kind. This can be seen in the lifting of Bashir Jan Mohammad, former President of the Karachi Stock Exchange and a very prominent member of Pakistan’s business community. It is also illustrated by the kidnapping of the nephew of Mr. S.M. Muneer, Vice-President, Federation of Pakistan Chambers of Commerce and Industries (FPCCI). But the most shocking was the spiriting away of the son of Mr. I.A. Hanif, Governor, State Bank of Pakistan on September 17, 1990. A number of other kidnappings have taken place, the signature of each operation has been strikingly similar. While one does believe in coincidences, the targets have been meticulously chosen and the execution of each exercise has been done with military precision. Kidnapping is the most difficult of terrorist acts, involving logistics of various nature that is beyond the capacity of the normal law breaker. With all due respect, holding up people on a highway may be good enough for our centuries and traditional highwaymen, but to intercept a person in broad daylight and speed off with him from metropolitan areas is beyond their capacity to carry on a sustained basis, no offence meant to their egos.

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Looting of the Public Till

The main reason for nationalising the banks in 1974 was that credit was never available to the masses, it simply got circulated among the wealthy coterie of few families. Bhutto was absolutely correct in his premise and, to an extent, successful in spreading credit to a broad spectrum of aspirants. Nationalisation created its own inherent ills to go with its advantages. With the bureaucracy’s discovery of the potential of financial strength as a source of power, a new mixed elite of banking executives and financial bureaucrats came into existence, answerable to nobody. The result has been unbridled loot of the banks for the last decade or so that has surpassed standard corrupt practices of kickbacks and graft in the Third World by miles.

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Accountability or witch-hunting

The process of accountability must be credible, or at least seem to be fair. If the public mood solidifies on the perception that a form of sixteenth century witch-hunting is in progress, accountability will fail, that would be a real disaster for the future of democracy in Pakistan. Some References against former PPP Federal office-holders have been filed before the Special Tribunals constituted under a law existing in the Statutes since 1977. Accepting (in the case of elected representatives only) the French style of the accused being guilty until proven innocent, the fact remains that PPP did not corner the market on corruption, it has existed since Pakistan became independent, the last PPP regime just finessed it to a new level of sophistication. If one has to highlight felonies and misdemeanours, the names of those who were allotted commercial plots on I.I. Chundrigar Road (old McLeod Road) at throwaway prices between 1947 and 1971 should make interesting reading.

Singling out PPP for accountability invites criticism implying motivation, while the immediate objective of denying them electoral power could perhaps be achieved, it is already providing a backlash of sorts that may have ominous portents in the future, political short-sightedness is a disease afflicting all successive governments in Pakistan. If the reports are true and a huge amount of money has been salted in individual external accounts (and given that the beneficiaries are ready and willing to part with their ill-gotten gains), the backlash of mass public opinion would be combined with a campaign of misinformation funded by the war chest, inadvertently giving PPP a weapon which may lead to electoral victory (if not this time, the next time around). If the stories in the media about the money pilfered are true, then such a success would have intangible repercussions, not excluding a bloody martial law as one consequence.

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Persian Gulf options

The dark clouds conjured up by Saddam Hussain have some silver linings, a surprised Iran being the recipient of the first windfall in the form of a unilateral Iraqi (1) acceptance of 1975 Algiers Accord (2) withdrawal from all captured Iranian territories and (3) release of all prisoners of war. Devastated by wanton chemical attacks, the Iranians had reluctantly accepted a ceasefire nine years into a war treacherously launched by Iraq to seize the oil-rich Iranian Khuzestan Province, the Iraqis having miscalculated the advantages that the convulsions in Iran gave them after the Shah’s exit. With unbearable casualties (more than 500,000 dead, about 2 million injured) and continued horrific destruction, Iranians bitterly bit the bullet. The economic might of the western world against them, the socialist world having armed Iraq to the teeth and the rich Arab countries (with Kuwait in the forefront) contributing to the Iraqi war effort with generous grants and credits, the Iranians were alone and really did not have much choice. They called Saddam Hussain a Hitler, a brutal sadist, murderer, a power hungry dictator, a menace to the region, etc, etc, all to no avail. Isolated because of extremism by part of its hierarchy, to Iran’s anguished cries against Iraqi chemical warfare, the western world generally turned a blind eye, giving proforma attention only, even after a stinging indictment by UN enquiry. What is happening now is poetic justice, the same epithets about Saddam are now being repeated by the western world which once indulged him.

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