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Archive for November, 1992

National consensus

As much as we had been hoping that a genuine political consensus would lead to an eminently qualified bipartisan National Government led by Nawaz Sharif, which would cope with the economic and geo-political crisis that the country is facing, using all the available talent of the country, the ill-advised Long March has successfully sabotaged this premise and threatens to plunge the country into a political crisis, a situation that this country needs as much as we need two left feet.

The Opposition, having been frustrated by a lack of numbers to push through a no-confidence motion in the National Assembly and failing to cajole the President to repeat his 1990 “Constitutional duty”, fell back to using the democratic right to protest in a most undemocratic manner to remove the Nawaz Sharif Government, by storming and occupying Parliament. While the Government may have over-reacted in suppressing the Opposition, they were quite successful on two counts, viz (1) scuttling the Opposition’s objectives to go beyond their democratic parameters and (2) using the sheer weight of administrative draconian measures in ensuring that in the process not one single life was lost. The end thus justifies the means. While the PDA leaders may have been quite sincere in their differing motives to unseat the Government, in their heart of hearts they know that such an eventuality was not possible without (1) creating a Constitutional crisis by (2) paralysing the government machinery and (3) creating an international media event that would bring cynosure from foreign sources, mainly from the US where a new Administration under Democrat President Elect Bill Clinton takes over on January 20, 1993.

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The “new deal” formula

Whenever there is a slowdown in the economy i.e. a retardation in economic growth, the economy is said to be in a Recession. When it gets worse i.e. the economy goes into a tailspin, it is said to be in a Depression. In the early 30s, in the wake of the great stock market crash of 1929, the US witnessed the worst Depression in its history. Millions participated happily in the euphoria of the ever increasing stock market prices that led up to that fateful day in October 29. When the stock market balloon burst, the precipitous plunge in prices of shares was like Doomsday intervening at an all-night all-comers party. Many millionaires, stockbrokers and others, became paupers overnight and unable to keep their monetary commitments (as over-valued scrips lost their value to almost nothing in one single fateful day), they jumped off Wall Street’s skyscrapers to the concrete below, their suicides were followed by that of many thousands of others, among them farmers, industrialists, hoteliers, workers, housewives, etc, a fair representative of those who had lost their complete life savings. As millions trudged through the streets and between farms looking for work but finding only “no vacancy” or “closed down” signs, soup kitchens proliferated as the only life sustenance. For the US it was a dark period and has been well recorded in their history books as well as celluloid, etched in their conscious mind of how bad things were and could be if the situation presently obtaining became worse.

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Let us privatise democracy

Greater priority should have been given in Pakistan to the “privatising” of democracy than to the process of privatisation of industry and commerce. No segment of the government is really under the control of democratically elected individuals, except maybe at the Prime Minister’s level and that too only in those parts that are so designated by our real rulers, the bureaucracy. The Chief Ministers and the various functionaries downwards are quite happy exercising the limits of their responsibility by allocating plots and rural lands and even these are so designated by our bureaucratic rulers. In order to progress, we must denationalise and decentralize democracy from the grassroots level upwards, otherwise the fact of power being in the hands of the people, the primary raison d’etre for democracy, is a continuing farce with which we are happily fooling ourselves.

Power is firmly in the hands of those who control the purse strings of the public exchequer, i.e. the bureaucrats who judge how the money has to be spent, subsequently allocate it and then mis-spend the same without fear of accountability. At the level of the Union, Municipality or further upwards, is there any elected politician who is free of a Controller in the form of some bureaucrat or the other? While Auditors must certainly be designated to ensure that our politicians do not spend all the money in the public exchequer on Pajeros and Nissan Patrol vehicles, the authority for financial sanctions (and the disbursement thereof) must be totally vested in the elected representatives in exclusion of bureaucratic interference. The public being painfully aware that their representatives they elect are mere window-dressing and have no fiscal authority, the mass psychology will continue to accept bureaucrats as the real rulers. Democracy will as such continue to remain a sham unless we take the power of sanctioning funds away from bureaucracy and give it to those elected by the people. Only by the genuine “privatising” of democracy can we expect that the aspirations of the people of this country will be assuaged.

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The long march

Newton’s third law of motion seems to apply to all governments in Pakistan, the present incumbents are not remaining in power because they are strikingly more capable or deserving than the others, the Opposition simply lacks the ability to change the present state availing. Unable to give impetus to their desires to unseat the Government through peaceful political means, those who love to hate the present government have banded together to declare another Long March on Islamabad. The last time around during the Coop Scam campaign, as the head of the caravan reached Jhelum, a controlled panic had swept some circles in Islamabad, till today nobody can come up with a satisfactory explanation why Ms Benazir called for a “time out” to fly off to Paris. Without that charismatic figure, the threat faded into the countryside.

Much more organisation seems to have gone into staging of the event this time. To drum up public support, the PDA leaders have been journeying far and wide, they have now named Wednesday November 18, 1992 as the target date for the Long March, the idea being that processions from all over the country would converge on the Capital and perform a mass protest sit-in in front of the Parliament Building. A pre-march rally at Liaquat Bagh in Rawalpindi has been scheduled to be addressed by the PDA leaders, all this is supposed to pass off without the disturbing of the peace. As usual, there are some implied tall claims by the Opposition that the President and the Army are giving them tacit support by not interfering with the “democratic” process, the support does not seem to be exactly discernible, more of a wink and a nod seems to have been rendered to the organisers of the March.

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US Presidential elections – Life after Bush

Governor Bill Clinton has won a landslide victory over George Bush in the US Presidential Elections. For a President who had the highest job approval rating in US history (91%) barely 18 months ago, this has been a remarkable comedown. On the crest of Operation Desert Storm, no one could have ever given odds to any Democratic contender against President Bush except as a human sacrifice to the US electoral system. To that end Bill Clinton has managed a stunning triumph. He led President Bush right from the start and unlike Michael Dukakis, the 1988 Democratic contender, Clinton managed to deflect hardball attacks against his character and patriotism to become the next President of the US of A.

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Operation clean-up First term review

The Pakistan Army was mandated by the PM in May 1992, on the “advice” of the Sindh Government, to restore the rule of law in the Province of Sindh, a six-month period was given. In actual implementation political considerations effectively circumscribed the Army’s actions to controlling the criminal activity that was rampant in the Province but to ignore the prime raison d’etre for that activity. It was administratively expedient to have the Army support the tottering Sindh Government by propping up the civil administration, the even-handedness that the Army proposed went against the grain of the Sindh Government. The present incumbents only wanted the Army to rid the Province of their political enemies (and problematical friends) while they went about their business of distributing favours, plots, etc.

Having launched the Army into the void, all the other power centres conveniently faded out of the picture including the Government controlled media, particularly PTV. The Army soon became rudely aware that it was left to accomplish its mission on its own while holding its credibility together as best it could, necessary support from the other organs of the State was unavailable. The situation seems to have been deliberately engineered on the one hand to (1) cow down the Opposition (and recalcitrants among vocal friendlies such as the MQM) by the sheer might of the Army’s force and on the other to (2) emasculate the Army’s potential as an accountability monitor by getting embroiled in a no-win situation quagmire. In normal parlance, this is known as the “two birds with one stone” ploy.

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The intelligence imbroglio

Over the past few weeks the domestic media has been putting pressure on our intelligence agencies for transgressions that are perceived to militate against the laws of the land and are labelled extra-constitutional in this democratic age. The role of certain intelligence personnel has become controversial and their personalities have been brought into focus as well as the fact that their inspiration did not emanate from national objectives but from private agendas. Going into details or specifics would be counter-productive to the national interest but some of those acts seem to border on criminal behaviour. Such transgressions as interference in domestic politics is in keeping with the fashion in all third world countries, Pakistan is no exception.

Utopia would be a wonderful place to live in but that is many dream worlds away, the facts of real-politik dictate that we must be pragmatic about accepting that intelligence agencies have a major role to play in national survival, in the pursuit of their mission they may exceed the letter but not the spirit of the law. By the very nature of their operations, intelligence agencies operate in the shadowy embrace of a nether world that is anathema to the concept of various freedoms that the masses expect in a democratic process. Over the decades, the intelligence agencies have been acquiring additional power under every leader, democratic or dictatorial, it is therefore not surprising that even those in high military or civilian appointments who are not part of the intelligence system are wary of them to the extent of paying them a homage of sorts. It is also not surprising that the personnel of these agencies consider themselves superior to all beings outside their immediate group and thus the ultimate bastion of patriotism, it is then only a short step to imagining oneself to be the final arbiter of the nation’s destiny and thus above the common law of the land. This is true not only in Pakistan but also in those countries who hold democracy as an article of faith, how can we have forgotten the super-patriot Col Oliver North?

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