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Archive for January, 1992

The Swing of the Pendulum

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) that arose out of the ashes of the former Soviet Union is itself in dire straits. While Norman Thomas held that “the alternative to the totalitarian state is the cooperative commonwealth”, the association in question is better known for its various disagreements and generally uncooperative stance towards each other, born mainly out of chaos and confusion but also the inherent suspicion between the various Republics about who is to get the best piece out of the carcass of a once powerful nation. While most of the argument should be about economic assets, contention is more pronounced about dividing the military power structure, particularly between Russia and the Ukraine.

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The evolving scenario

Despite severe constraints, the opening up of the economy by the Nawaz Sharif Government has ensured that the enduring pain of galloping inflation and economic recession has been relatively mitigated. In a world beset by economic problems requiring extremely severe measures as in the former COMECON countries, the far-reaching reforms of the Nawaz Sharif Government has sorely tested the capacity of the common man but has remained within bearable limits. In the dismantling of established bureaucratic hurdles, Nawaz Sharif has done himself proud, both in having the courage to carry out the necessary changes and then managing to avoid bureaucratic backlash. In this he may have been helped by the situation that we find ourselves in, bereft of US economic and chastened by the 20 months of PPP rule, the all-powerful bureaucracy lost the urge to continue to guide the economy according to its own dictates. In the emerging solutionless economic morass, they probably decided that discretion was the better part of valour.

By circumstances rather than genuine design, the opening of new commercial banks has preceded the overall dismantling of the State public sector financial institutions. Keeping in view the fact that in Third World countries socio-economic compulsions must supersede purely economic factors, a modicum of public sector interest in financial institutions must continue for the good of the masses. We must balance economic emancipation with the ignorance and illiteracy endemic among the vast mass of the population, to attempt a purely economic amelioration of our problems will mean unmitigated disaster for their socio-economic aspirations. Looking at the poor economic straits of the Republics of the former Soviet Union and their last ditch resort to painful measures like removing price controls to get post-haste to a market oriented economy, we should count ourselves lucky that we have muddled through a mixed economy for many years, the aberrations were mainly because of bureaucracy’s manipulations rather than any concerted State philosophy.

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Senator Pressler and his Amendment

US Senator Larry Pressler is to fly to Pakistan today from New Delhi on the second stage of an 11-day South Asia tour. Senator Pressler is the author of the Pressler Amendment in US Congress, under which all US Aid to Pakistan has been cut off because of US concerns that Pakistan’s development of nuclear potential may have crossed a fail-safe military threshold. His stopover in India was meant to gauge Indian reaction at the highest level to the Nuclear Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which the Indians, having already exploded a bomb as far back as 1974, are refusing to sign.

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The internal security environment

Pakistan continues to be-devilled by internal security problems that contribute to an unhappy economic environment. To some extent these are influenced by external circumstances, particularly by continuing Indian interference in Sindh and the persisting instability in Afghanistan. Given that the present Government has economic reforms as its primary political plank, measures have to be taken to ensure that the environment is made conducive for the reforms to take hold and the economy to flourish. Throughout the past year, Sindh has been the focus of national concerns, pushing aside the momentous changes taking place in the world. The world situation will eventually affect us but with relations with the US, our Superpower partner of the last decade, out of kilter, we presently lack a coherent external policy that will (1) preclude any disadvantage that we may face because of the unprecedented geo-political changes and (2) benefit from turning the situation to our advantage.

Jam Sadiq has been successful in subduing ethnic tension as well as controlling crime in the urban areas because of the Jam-MQM coalition and the efforts of the law enforcement agencies, particularly the Military Intelligence (MI) Detachments that, along with dedicated help from the Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC), went successfully after the kidnapping and car-lifting gangs. However, the Veena Hayat case has severely exposed the fragility of the illusion that urban areas are relatively crime-free. What was more horrible was the nature of the crime and, despite the High Court Tribunal verdict, the persisting public perception of the possibility that it may have been perpetrated by members of the law enforcement agencies. Despite having some of the finest police officers, the credibility of the uniformed Sindh police and their associate intelligence agencies thereof has been so eroded that the mass belief is that most crime originates because of their machinations.

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Kashmir issue

In Indo-Pakistan relations, Kashmir alone is the lingering and central problem. All other issues are simply the symptoms of this malady. Therefore, if a just and equitable solution is effected, the tension around it will automatically cease to exist and the region could be able to play its natural role in world affairs. Not only shall this provide a conducive framework for the development and progress of the constituent nations in the area, but it will also bring stability and security in the region, thereby making a substantial contribution to international peace and harmony. Being the core issue, its settlement will tend to release tremendous reservoir of energy and resources, which are thus far locked unnecessarily in mutual antagonism, to be otherwise diverted to constructive purpose.

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State of privatisation

Less than a month after taking over power in November 1990, the Nawaz Sharif regime started to make good on its promises to rejuvenate the economy. To start with, they capitalised on the homework of the previous PPP regime and initiated the present privatisation process by putting Muslim Commercial Bank (MCB) on the auction block, confirming their determination to overcome bureaucratic obstacles by an early forcing of the issues. The next one to be disinvested was Allied Bank Limited (ABL), the Government then went into overdrive in their sales effort in what seems to be an ill-considered spree.

The process of disinvestment/privatisation was kept extremely quiet during the Junejo Regime, the main beneficiaries being some corrupt bureaucratic functionaries in the Ministries of Finance, Production and Industries. One of the greatest scams was the disinvestment of Pakistan Services Limited (PSL), which owned the Hotel Intercontinental chain, for a mere pittance. The actual negotiation and transactions were kept secret while valuable assets held in trust on behalf of the people of Pakistan were disposed of for a scandalously low price, this major fraud was then successfully covered up. The uppermost consideration to anyone given the mandate to disinvest/privatise public property must be that not only must the negotiations be above-board but by making them public, should be seen to be as such.

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