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Archive for July, 1992

Jobs and the Nation

Two mighty Superpowers confronted each other in a four decades old cold war till a scant year or so ago with enough bang in their arsenals to blow the world up many hundreds of times over. Though the former Soviet Union’s weaponry is still intact for the most part in 12 or so different hands, the only effective Head Honcho left is the USA. As the clear winner of the cold war, George Bush would be expected to be riding high in the esteem of his own electorate. In addition to the demise of the Soviet Union, President Bush had orchestrated the world campaign, barely a year or so ago, to oust Iraq from Kuwait. His spectacular successes in foreign policy initiatives have been dwarfed by the spectre of continuing recession, jobs are more important to the US public than the fate of Gorbachev, Yeltsin or Saddam Hussain. The same factor of economics that was primarily responsible for consigning the Soviet Union to oblivion is now threatening to erode his candidacy for a Second Term. If the populace seems unduly ungrateful, it only seems to confirm man’s over-riding and pragmatic concern for one’s own self-interest.

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Pakistan Investment Board

Of the many obstacles to foreign investment in Pakistan, widespread terrorism stands out as the greatest economic hurdle, particularly in the gateway Province of Sindh. While the law and order problem has been brought under control in many parts of the country and arms proliferation has gone down commensurate to the winding down of the Afghan war, the “terror” of wading through Pakistan’s bureaucracy keeps foreign investors at bay. Recognising this problem, successive governments have initiated various schemes designed to encourage entrepreneurs that the “one-window” operation is supposed to be an end run around the flanks of bureaucracy. The bewilderment of intending investors at not finding the elusive “window” despite the best efforts of the political government to propagate the same must be excused, bureaucracy as usual has managed to turn this exercise into another fashionable but false trail to follow. Ms Benazir had tried to institutionalise the concept by having a Board of Investment (BoI). To give it teeth it was put directly in the Prime Minister’s (PM’s) Secretariat. The mistake then made was that a serving bureaucrat was made executive Supremo under a figurehead, as bureaucrats are apt to do a blizzard of statistics was soon created to camouflage fact from fiction and label the process an outstanding success. Though not in the measure that the government of that day would have us believe, one is still inclined to call it a success, even if one penny was attracted thereof into Pakistan, some purpose was still achieved.

Because of many lurid tales of corruption surrounding Ms Benazir’s government, the BoI got a special pedestal of approbation from her successors. In fairness, one can say that while relations/friends are suspected to have got inordinately involved into things which were none of their business the rumours turned out to be more fiction than fact. Most are now seen to be unproven, through some are fact without the evidence to say so. Unfortunately, the BoI was dismantled as soon as the PPP Government fell and an excellent concept was consigned to oblivion to the detriment of Pakistan’s economy.

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The trade policy

In his speech unveiling the new Trade Policy 1992-93, the Federal Commerce Minister made one telling point, in the late 60s Pakistan’s manufactured exports exceeded the combined exports of Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippine, Thailand and Turkey. Today, each of these countries is far ahead of Pakistan.

The reasons for this stunted performance is rooted in the myopic centralised policies of successive governments from the 70s till the late 80s which envisaged absolute State control in almost every walk of commerce and industry. With centralized monitoring and over-regulation, Pakistan’s economy floundered. While we blame Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for nationalisation, we tend to forget that it was in the decade of the super-bureaucrat Ghulam Ishaq Khan, now President of Pakistan by the Will of God and the miscalculations of PPP, that being subjected mercilessly to the excesses of bureaucracy 1977-1985 inasfar as rampant corruption, inefficiency and indolence, the economy was almost destroyed. With the initiation of a form of democracy in 1985 (and accountability thereof), the slide was halted. Ms Benazir’s PPP further consolidated on the upward swing by eschewing the policies of her late father but it was the present Nawaz Sharif regime that has actually laid the base for dynamic expansion by a revolutionary liberalising of the economy. One of the prime consideration of a trade policy must be to cut down the deficit gap between imports and exports by curtailing imports and expanding exports. However this is not easily done as expansion of exports is partially dependent upon a rise in imports of raw materials and capital machinery, it is more necessary to keep the ratio of comparative increases in a positive balance.

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The trade policy

In his speech unveiling the new Trade Policy 1992-93, the Federal Commerce Minister made one telling point, in the late 60s Pakistan’s manufactured exports exceeded the combined exports of Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippine, Thailand and Turkey. Today, each of these countries is far ahead of Pakistan.

The reasons for this stunted performance is rooted in the myopic centralised policies of successive governments from the 70s till the late 80s which envisaged absolute State control in almost every walk of commerce and industry. With centralized monitoring and over-regulation, Pakistan’s economy floundered. While we blame Zulfikar Ali Bhutto for nationalisation, we tend to forget that it was in the decade of the super-bureaucrat Ghulam Ishaq Khan, now President of Pakistan by the Will of God and the miscalculations of PPP, that being subjected mercilessly to the excesses of bureaucracy 1977-1985 inasfar as rampant corruption, inefficiency and indolence, the economy was almost destroyed. With the initiation of a form of democracy in 1985 (and accountability thereof), the slide was halted. Ms Benazir’s PPP further consolidated on the upward swing by eschewing the policies of her late father but it was the present Nawaz Sharif regime that has actually laid the base for dynamic expansion by a revolutionary liberalising of the economy. One of the prime consideration of a trade policy must be to cut down the deficit gap between imports and exports by curtailing imports and expanding exports. However this is not easily done as expansion of exports is partially dependent upon a rise in imports of raw materials and capital machinery, it is more necessary to keep the ratio of comparative increases in a positive balance.

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Accountability without parameters

The Army’s initial moves into the urban areas of Sindh to restore the rule of law was made in a well-planned and efficient manner but its objectives were limited by time, so they chose first and foremost to cow down the well-organised MQM whose inflammatory statements had indicated that they would violently resist any moves into their city stronghold, thus causing unnecessary bloodshed and destruction. Given that the element of tactical surprise had been lost in the weeks preceding the operations, the controversial use of the MQM (Haqeeqi) in a Trojan Horse-ploy was an intelligent tactical move and must be commended. Kudos are due to the Army hierarchy, from the COAS, General Asif Nawaz, to Lt Gen Nasir Akhtar, Comd 5 Corps and Maj Gen Malik Saleem, Comd Corps Reserve. But having utilized the dissidents to enter into the so-called urban strongholds of MQM without any firefight (being embroiled in street battles in built-up areas is always a recurring nightmare for any military commander), the Army would now be well-advised to drop these Haqeeqi-types like so many hot potatoes. The frying pan is ever more comfortable than roasting in the fire, these characters are man for man worse than their former colleagues from whom they parted due to crass economic rather than ideological differences. Unfortunately an insiduous campaign is now in full swing to show that the Army is favourably biased towards this faction, fanned along enthusiastically by the Haqeeqis themselves. To maintain its credibility, the Army must forcefully and forthrightly dispel this wrong perception, one telling measure would be to hold these gentlemen accountable for their past (and present) misdeeds and not to allow them to have the potential to run riot under the benign shadows of the Army’s guns. If they want to test their manhood without that protective cover, they are welcome to do so, as long as innocents do not get caught in the crossfire.

The events of the past fortnight have laid bare facts hitherto widely rumoured but never evidenced, that “torture cells” proliferated in the urban areas of Sindh. However, coercion of other communities, parties or groupings is not solely an MQM initiative and/or prerogative, all the militant factions of Jeay Sindh, Jamaate Islami, PPI, PPP, JUI, etc have been (and are) willing proponents of the “torture cell” methods wherever and whenever circumstances allowed them such leeway. Have the vicious gangs of drug smugglers and kidnappers disappeared into oblivion? That brutality was being inflicted by elements of the MQM upon members of their own Mohajir community, to either keep the populace in line or to extort money thereof, is extremely surprising and in sum total, shocking. Given the massive democratic support available to the MQM, it is astonishing that some among their leaders were so shortsighted and depraved to countenance such activity or blissfully blind to it. However, due to the less-than-enthusiastic PR support by the government information machinery to the Army’s effort, particularly on TV, this may rebound on the Army. As the backlash sets in to the mass psyche of the Mohajir community, the present exercise, however sincere, may ultimately prove to be counter-productive to the Army’s image in the long run. Civilized society does demand that the perpetrators of such atrocities must be individually targeted and dealt with harshly. However, there are caveats to this, insofar as (1) the evidence pointing to the person responsible must be irrefutable and incontrovertible, i.e. there must be a definite “smoking gun” (2) the same yardstick of accountability must be applied to anyone else (a) who indulged in similar activity and (b) whoever being in as responsible position ignored such facts when these were brought to their notice, i.e. the concerned individuals and agencies of the government, must be similarly culpable. While politics makes for strange bedfellows, to compromise with one’s principles down to the barbaric depths (shown sparingly on TV), for the sake of coming to power or perpetuating it thereof, makes them at least involuntary accessories to any crimes perpetrated by their political partners. The coercion centres displayed could not have existed without a form of official patronage, benign indifference or blissful ignorance was a defence ignored at Nuremburg in the trials of the German leaders post-World War 2.

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