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Archive for March, 1991

Redirecting trade

During the last 100 days or so, the fledgling Nawaz Sharif Government has defied the odds and gone on an economic offensive to come to grips with the deteriorating economic situation. Far-reaching structural reforms have been enforced in the financial sector, the fundamental premise being to remove restrictions that makes government a yoke in the way of economic progress. Bureaucracy is being gradually taken out of the lives of commercial and industrial circles on a day-to-day basis. The economy has been allowed to run free. The dangers associated with immediate loosening of controls, coupled with the dragging of bureaucratic feet, could still have an adverse effect on the economy unless the gains are consolidated on a broad front of reforms in other sectors, keeping commensurate pace with the financial reforms. Sartaj Aziz’s integrity and maturity is well equipped to cope with the situation, he has been carrying the ball for the Nawaz Sharif regime for some time, some of his other colleagues must get into the act to support his efforts.

Change must also be made in our trade pattern, caution being exercised in whole-hog adoption of free market philosophy so that an unscrupulous coterie of robber barons do not take advantage of the Government’s liberal attitude and pillage the system. Our strong points in exports and our necessities in imports must have linkage, recognizing that this may not be entirely successful in the face of growing latent and blatant protectionism from the developed world.

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Renewed hope for PIA

Hampered in breaching a phalanx of protective personal staff, media becomes a good means of individual communication, stonewalling has become a PIA art finessed by experienced professionals at our version of “spin control”.

The NATION on Oct 2, 1990 requested in an article entitled “PIA IN LIMBO” that a suitable aviation professional be selected to become the MD in place of Arif Abbasi in case his return was not feasible. It could hardly be expected that Air Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan, who was already Chairman, would do anything meaningful in his dual role as MD in the few months remaining, to quote “after all, the present MD may go back to the PAF within a few months,” unquote. Five months later, Air Marshal Farooq Feroze Khan has gone back to the PAF as Chief of Air Staff (CAS), leaving behind a “manageable loss” of Rs.2300 million (Rs.2.3 billion). The Air Force seems to be a genius at euphemisms, after all the Allied air attacks on targets in Iraq only caused “collateral damage” in the deaths and injuries to thousands of civilians! Instead of a “manageable loss”, we would rather have been satisfied by a “meagre profit”, the least one could expect from PIA’s monopoly situation.

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The Gulf War Misconceptions about a calculated risk

The Gulf war started early in the morning of Jan 17, 1991 while we were on our way to witness the Final Briefing of the Pakistan Army’s Map and Signal Exercise in Gujranwala. By the time we entered the top security perimeter containing all the Corps Tac HQs of the Army and the Central Briefing tent, the Allied air war against Iraq was well under way and to all accounts the first strikes had successfully pulverized the Iraqi Air Force. Being incredulous at the apparent lack of Iraqi response, we tended to receive the reports with skepticism, taking that to be one-sided propaganda. One of the senior journalists present, who was closely listening following the radio news, informed us proudly that Saddam Hussain had just proclaimed, to quote, “the mother of all battles had begun”, unquote.

Our attention thus strayed from the subject at hand which was the requirement of the COAS of the Pakistan Army to exercise his General Staff, his Corps Commanders and their respective staffs along with Senior echelon HQs of the Air Force and Navy in command and control functions in real-time battlefield conditions. In the presence of the country’s top military brass, we became more interested in their perceptions about (1) the actual situation obtaining (2) the likely future scenario (3) Pakistan’s perceived role and (4) the regional situation likely after the Gulf War. The Army hierarchy obliged by a detailed briefing by Maj Gen Agha Talat Masood, Commander Army’s Air Defence Command. There were some perceived contradictions that went beyond his mandate to answer and was taken up by the COAS, Gen Mirza Aslam Beg, in a Question-and-Answer Session. As is usual the COAS Media dialogue, turned into a lively wide-ranging all encompassing discussion, focussing on the options available to Pakistan and our geo-political responses.

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Energy as an economic resource

The prime factor governing balanced economic growth is sound and creative management supported by a broad expanse of the skilled and unskilled manpower through the complete spectrum. Industrialisation is necessary for development, agriculture growth in a commensurate manner is an added potential vital for economic emancipation. Some Nation-States have been compensated for lack of land space (and thus agriculture potential) by their strategic geographical location at international crossroads, making Services of various kind into an invaluable asset, Singapore and Dubai being prime examples.

Third World countries are rarely blessed with assets such as vast expanse of land and a developed agriculture base like Pakistan, despite the handicap of centralized planning (and the lack of imagination that goes with it) we have a sound infrastructure of small, medium and heavy industries, operating profitably under the private sector. Wherever private enterprise has had a free run, our management expertise has generally been sound, management performance in the public sector has depended considerably upon the individual, with rare exceptions this has been the weakest link in the chain of economic development. The individual’s desires for pro-rata incentive tasked to commercial activity force-multiplies results, the achievement of desired objectives is heavily dependant upon result-oriented hard work. In government departments this may be a cause for delay and inefficiency for the country, to have such individuals in critical decision making areas can be nothing short of an economic catastrophe. Any government serious about tackling economic issues must induct capable individuals from private sector in decision-making and/or evaluation management position in short and medium-term contracts. In advanced countries, this is an excellent device to bring a dynamism into the usually moribund realm of State.

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The Gulf crisis – Some lessons, some opportunities

Mixed emotions dominated the past week with the start (and the quick end) of the Ground War, “the mother of all battles”, to quote Saddam Hussain. Pounded relentlessly by air and bereft of any motivation, Iraq’s vaunted army disintegrated in less than a 100 hours in the face of a fast moving Allied ground offensive. The lack of the Iraqi will to stand up and be counted at the moment of truth was shocking, white flags proliferated with unbelievable abandon, the images on TV of Iraqi PWs were deeply humiliating to all Muslims. All PWs share a common demeanour of utter helplessness, broken spirits and the scars of battle, the Iraqis, except that they wore uniforms, did not give the look of soldiers. Despite our condemnation of Saddam’s brutal occupation of Kuwait, one may feel sorry for the Iraqis in general for the misery and devastation visited on them but only utter contempt for the bankrupt Iraqi leadership which refused to realise that their people could not put up even a semblance of an opposition. Rhetoric can never substitute the deeper emotions of motivation needed to stiffen the resolve of any Armed Forces before they engage into battle.

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One year in the political life of Nawaz Sharif An objective assessment

In order to complete an objective assessment of the past year, it is necessary to discuss the economic and political sectors along with their social inter-action. In a nutshell the 365 days of the Nawaz Sharif regime has been as eventful as the preceding 20 months of the Benazir rule.

Economic Sector
The economic sector has been the region of Nawaz Sharif’s greatest achievements, fundamental changes have been effected in the system that are both courageous, and far-reaching. To a country suffocating under bureaucratic red tape, the reforms have been breath-taking, an instilling of pure oxygen into the body economic. Revolutionary changes in the Foreign Currency Regulations have been effected in a bid to make the domestic climate more conducive to foreign investment. This most fundamental of reforms was needed to revitalize the economy in allowing free movement of foreign exchange in and out of the country in conjunction with allowing Pakistanis and foreigners to own and freely operate foreign currency accounts within and outside the country. Like Hong Kong and Dubai, Pakistan has thus become a free exchange area. This major step removes the psychological mindset and physical roadblock discouraging foreign investment, particularly the private entrepreneurial skills of private businessmen. Most of our top businessmen have been maintaining foreign accounts illegally, by making it legal a mere technicality has been waived. There are risks manifest in the loosening of such controls, some suspect our currency may end up rapidly depreciating, like in Latin/South America with possible flight of capital. On the other hand our economy is buttressed by strong, positive factors like food self-autarky, a wide range of skilled blue and white collar manpower and an innovative, enterprising populace with an avid and keen approach to commerce and industry.

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Pakistan and Bangladesh – Two countries, one nation

Two decades to the day that Pakistan became spiritually asunder, no residual bitterness remains except among a minority constituting the ignorant or the most rabid die-hard. The violence in 1971 lasted for a span of almost nine months ending with the physical separation of the two wings, during this pregnant period neither side can claim any kudos for civilized behaviour. Mutual love and affection have overridden the venom of 1971, the wounds have healed to the point that very few remember history except as a scar that refuses to fade away. Memory must remain as a deterrent to repeating such aberrations in the future.

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Bangladesh elections

Elections in Bangladesh may not have produced a clear majority among the 298 seats at stake for Parliament, the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) with 140 seats of the 294 so far declared is in the driver’s seat as far as making the next Government goes. In an election touted as the most fair in its history of two decades, the BNP trounced its main rival, Awami League (AL) which, despite open-ended Indian support, morally and materially, got a relatively modest 83 seats. Gen Ershad’s Jatiyo Party (JP) was a distant third with 37 seats while Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) surprised no one with its relatively good (for JI) showing of 17 seats, the rest being with Independents or one or two seat parties.

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