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Archive for April, 1992

The BCCI cadres

In its heyday, BCCI was a multi-national bank in the real sense, though staffed mainly by Pakistanis, Indians and Bangladeshis. On its demise, all the blame reverted to its original home, Pakistan. In a sense, the labelling of BCCI as a Pakistani bank was not incorrect as the founder, Agha Hassan Abedi, and most of its upper hierarchy were Pakistani nationals, belonging mostly to United Bank Limited (UBL) which Abedi had formed in the early 60s, duly sponsored by the industrial family of Saigols.

Abedi’s success relied on his staffing UBL with an excellent cadre of existing banking executives from other banks, following it up by training a whole new generation of managers from bright young men fresh out of the universities. Needless to say, this policy ensured that by the time nationalisation came about in the early 70s, UBL had some of the most dynamic banking professionals in the country. On the opening of BCCI, Abedi repeated his UBL success, raiding UBL (and other banks) for the best and the brightest, thus raising the early BCCI cadres to a new level of excellence, giving the new Bank the backbone for its international success in the 70s.


Land of the Blue(??)Danube

The Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mohammad Nawaz Sharif, is flying to Austria today. Despite the fact that the Danube that passes through Vienna is more muddy than blue, the thought of this once imperial city of pomp and show, culture and music invokes a sense of history even in the least romantic. Austria being one of the two countries (the other being Switzerland) at the neutral core of Europe, is geographically placed at a crossroads between East and West, North and South. This small nation of 9 million people, of which full 98% are German speaking, was at the centre of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire, its location determining its important and central role in European road, rail, air and river traffic.


The bond issue snafu

The Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal recently featured ADS from the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) inviting all and sundry to purchase Foreign Currency Bearer Certificates (FCBC) with attractive premiums and no questions asked about the identity of either the purchasers or the source of funds. Notwithstanding the US$ 120000 charged by each of these prestigious Dailies for printing the FCBC offer, both papers followed up by scathing criticism of the purported “money-laundering” scheme. Motivated Congressmen from the US Senate and the House of Representatives, smarting under the attack by the domestic media for their history of issuing of rubber checks, jumped on this unfortunate AD with fervour and fury, if only to divert attention. Given that Agha Hassan Abedi and BCCI originated from Pakistan, dark innuendoes were aired about Pakistan being a safe haven for drug smuggling and money laundering. Suddenly, one of the finest bastions of financial integrity in the Third World, the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP), found itself in a hapless position due to the ill-conceived, immature and naive wording of the advertisement. A high level delegation led by one of the Deputy Governors of SBP, Mr Sibghatullah, has now left for the States for a belated attempt at damage control.

Before analysing the facts and attempting to cut through the obvious mess-up, one must study the events that led to this international embarrassment. The foreign debt situation as it existed in June 1991 was composed of US$ 15.9 billion foreign debt, either public or publicly guaranteed medium and long-term, disbursed and outstanding. Short-term debt, particularly acquired in the last two/three years amounted to about US$ 4 billion, bringing the debt figure up to US$ 20 billion approximately. Debt servicing was estimated at US$ 1395 million per annum. Given all these astronomical figures, we still remain far behind India and Indonesia who owe more than US$ 50 billion each. Moreover there are enough indicators still on the positive side to ensure that we do not fall within the category of the “severely indebted”.


Khalid, leader extraordinary

In writing his well researched “THE SWORD OF ALLAH” on one of Islam’s outstanding military leaders, Khalid Bin Waleed, late Lt Gen Agha Ibrahim Akram confessed that he could hardly capture all of the extraordinary exploits of this amazing man (41 major battles in 15 years, 35 concentrated in the last seven) in just one book. On a pro-rata scale, an article is much less commensurate.

The son of Waleed, one of the most respected of Quraish clan elders in the time of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), Khalid showed early prowess as a more than ordinary soldier, being physically very strong, aggressive in nature and extremely courageous. At the Battle of Uhud, when he fought the first of his two battles against the Muslims, it was his patience and military acumen that kept the Quraish cavalry’s two wings (his along with that of Akrama) aloof from the battle as the Quraish infantry disintegrated on account of the relentless Muslim attack, then seizing the moment to attack and overwhelm the critical high ground that the Muslim archers had partially vacated in direct violation of the instructions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), turning the prospect of Muslim victory into Islam’s first military defeat. Military tactical sense was an inborn Khalid attribute, he deployed this God-given gift later to Islam’s advantage many times over in his illustrious career.


Unified command

One of the lessons of the recently concluded Gulf War is that control of overall military operations in any war theatre must be in the hands of a single authority to ensure coordinated result-oriented decisive action. To a great extent General Norman Schwarzkopf, the Commander of Allied (37 nation coalition) Forces in the Gulf War, has been a Patton-like extension of General Dwight D.Eisenhower’s diplomatic skills that held the Western Allies together in World War II till final military victory over Germany. The US Central Command functioned as the HQs nucleus for the Allied Forces in war-testing of the US doctrine called AirLand Battle. To those that may be misled into thinking that this is a brand new concept, one may invite attention to the development of the German “Blitzkrieg” that overran Europe in a combination of deep tank forays preceded by close support Stuka fighter-bombers within a few weeks of the start of World War II. The Allies were giving the Germans back in the same coin during the later part of the war, though the great “leapfrog” envisaged during the planning for Operation “Market Garden” came to grief at Arnhem when the BRIDGE seized by Allied para-dropped and glider-dropped Airborne troops was found to be TOO FAR out of the reach of Allied ground troops trying in vain to link up. This time around General Schwarzkopf’s strategy brought the Allies in a series of leapfrogs to the banks of the Euphrates River and the total encirclement of the Iraqi forces in the “Kuwait pocket”.

All Armies train for war during peace without coming out of their peacetime syndrome. Armies almost never learn from the experience of others, they are more likely to learn from their own bitter experience. Most military men have mindset fixations about practices which may have been followed for generations, considering it to be a heresy to even debate otherwise. Despite two wars, the latter a sorrier experience than the first, the Pakistan Armed Forces have not really broken out of the shackles of World War II except in the upper reaches of military hierarchy to some extent. Unfortunately we do not have geographical depth or industrial resilience to come back from a military catastrophe. Some organisational and management changes were effected in the 50s because of induction of US military aid, while the Tables of Organisation and Equipment (Ts O & E) have been modified, upgraded and updated to some extent, there has been no real change in organisational tables or basic tactics. The induction of modern equipment in the 8Os has orchestrated some improvement in the battle systems but they remain far below the level that we have seen employed by the Allies in the recent war. Even the Russians and Chinese have started to conduct a major rethinking of their manpower-heavy military machines because of the high-tech lessons of the Gulf War, in all fairness real evaluation will show that no army on this earth could have withstood the tremendous aerial onslaught that the Iraqis were subjected to, coupled with electronic warfare that made their systems “blind”, the Iraqis could not respond even if they had the will to do so. Entire units were decimated by the preponderant Allied Air power, with constant desertions many Division-sized formations ceased to exist even before the Ground war was joined. Military analysts may be led to wrong conclusions by the humiliating collapse of the Iraqi Army, caution has to be exercised to obtain relevant lessons out of the fog of war that has further been coloured by the euphoria of Allied victory.


The drug problem

(A series of two articles enquiring into the drug problems affecting society in the world and Pakistan and the steps to be taken to eradicate it. This is the FIRST part which examines the drug situation with relevance to Pakistan).

Medillin occupies a special place in the annals of corruption, for the first time in history the lawless have tried to take over an entire country on the strength of their ability to purchase anyone. The Un-Godly (as Leslie Charteris’s Saint would say) operate mainly from a city in Colombia called Medillin. This South American city is the Cocaine Capital of the World, with refining laboratories in the distant jungles and mountains, the commerce takes place in utter freedom within the Municipal limits of Medillin, or did so till very recently. Medillin has lost Mayors, Police Chiefs, Judges and various other reformist-minded law enforcers regularly, so much so that you find little or no takers for such high office, normally craved and aspired for, extremely short life-span of the sudden and violent nature being an effective deterrent, those who do not collaborate with the Drug Cartel are ruthlessly eliminated. The electorate regularly votes the brave into office but discretion has become the better part of valour, and the lawless have taken over the entire metropolis lock, stock and barrel by the liberal use of force and/or the fabulous wealth acquired by cocaine smuggling. The drug warlords have now expanded their horizons to Colombia itself. The Federal Justice Minister was the recipient of so many death threats (and assassination attempts thereof) that he resigned from office and became the Country’s Ambassador to Budapest, Hungary, hoping that East Europe would act as a great deterrent for would-be assassins. Walking one day in this supposedly safe sanctuary, a professional hitman caught up with him testifying to the long reach of the Drug Cartel. On a visit to Medillin, his successor’s armed escorts were killed, the Minister was taken prisoner, tortured and then sent the way of his predecessor. The lady who followed lasted for sometime, the whole country in an uproar, the country supported by all nations in the Hemisphere. Ultimately the death threats were too much for her, a tearful nervous wreck, she sent in her resignation once she was safely in Washington on her way to a safe hideaway. Three Justice Ministers, three down, two rather permanently. A whole bunch of Supreme Court Judges were murdered in cold blood as they were about to ratify the Extradition Treaty with the US. The “Un-Extraditables”, as the warlords of the Drug Cartel started calling themselves, launched a campaign to take over the fairly large-sized country, almost too late Colombia awoke to the great danger within. The drug warlords calculated that taking over the organs of the state including the Defence and Police Services would allow them enormous freedom of action, as it is they were using some Latin American countries, primarily Panama as a safe haven and a transit point, supposedly with the connivance of the unlamented General Noriega, now languishing in the basement cell of a Miami Courthouse, awaiting trial in the US on charges of drug trafficking, abetment thereof, money laundering etc, etc. Other Latin American countries, including puritan socialist Cuba (war hero Lt. Gen Ochoa was recently shot on drug related charges) and Nicaragua became links in the drug chain of the Colombian Drug Cartel, the warlords were really coming up in the world.