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Archive for February, 1993

The BCCI Saga ABEDI – past, present and future

Enshrined in any democracy is an individual’s “God Given” right to personal privacy. A natural corollary of this is the discretion exercised by financial institutions, the fundamental premise of the management of funds for any entity, personal and/or corporate individual and/or collective. To that end, banking is necessarily a secretive discipline, bankers may be taciturn by force of circumstances, reserve becomes their first nature. Switzerland, Luxembourg, Cayman Islands, Jersey Islands, etc are famous havens for the depositing of excess funds, most of them can be said to be of illegal status, case in point the frustrating search for the Marcos billions. Secrecy in banking remains the greatest attribute for success, far from being any disqualification. Till the middle of this century, “private banking” was almost the sole domain of the Swiss. Even now the Nazi millions are hoarded away in safe Swiss custody, in many of the cases the owners have ceased to exist. On the other hand flamboyance is often considered an anathema by the conservative world of bankers and is treated with ambivalence bordering on apprehension. If you should add blatant aggressiveness to this you will have a volatile mix which is not conducive to the palate of the world of international banking, no matter that they themselves operate just as brashly, but from (and in) the shadows. To that end, Agha Hassan Abedi represented an anachronism, a banker in the traditional mould who kept the financial dealings of his clients confidential but who maintained an extremely high profile by moving comfortably among Kings, Presidents, Sheikhs, Princes, Senior Government functionaries, etc. While he confined himself to the oil-rich Kingdoms and States as well as the impoverished centres of the Third World he was tolerated, his move into the bastions of the developed world led to his ultimate undoing. However, one must caution here against any orchestrated litanies against the so-called Jewish lobby. Living in a world of conspiracies we have begun to believe that every action not to our liking is a conspiracy. One must indulge in self-criticism about one’s shortcomings before passing on the buck to all and sundry.

There is no society on this earth which can be considered more equal than that of the United States of America, the fundamental essence of that equality is a dedicated national penchant to be fair to all its citizens. While there may be aberrations galore, born out of ignorance and die-hard parochialism that recognizes no logic, the fundamental premise of the State is to provide for all its residents, citizen and non-citizen, equal opportunity and equal justice, inequities and discrimination fighting a losing battle against the interpretation of the laws of the land in a generally fair and diligent manner, devoted to the good of society as a whole rather than the vested interest of an individual and/or a group. This propensity for fair play is an endearing American quality and is the magnet that attracts all races and religions to its shores. The USA is a great melting pot, in the world today it has the least discrimination on a pro-rata average.


The philosophy and practical problems of privatisation

A human being’s positive response to incentive is the underlying philosophy behind privatisation. During the last decade or so, the fundamental plank of socialism, nationalisation, came to represent inefficiency, corruption, nepotism, favouritism and in the ultimate analysis, failure. Without motivation for reward registered against achievement, the graph of performance fell appreciably. While some individual persons took their job with responsibility without any aspiration for reward other than their regular salaries and appreciation, most took their place of employment to be a place to spend their allotted time for work with the least amount of effort from their side, physical and/or mental.

The net result of rampant nationalisation was incomplete production and shoddy quality, a lack-lustre performance that was further compounded by surplus manpower and inefficient, corrupt management. For decades the communist model was eulogised in glowing terms as the perfect example of an ideology suiting the genius of the people. With the advent of Gorbachev, a new urgency came into the USSR’s economic life, Perestroika (economic reform) was introduced along with Glasnost (openness). Unfortunately for the Soviet Union, they reversed the Chinese model, Glasnost raised the aspirations of the people, Perestroika followed far behind, frustrating the raised hopes of the masses. The result is that the Soviet empire has crumbled, COMECON has failed as an economic unit and the military arm, Warsaw Pact, is a thing of the past. The whole region is now in turmoil, political problems have surfaced mainly due to economic inequity.


The presidential sweepstakes

For the record, Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan went public with his candidature for President first, however it is the incumbent President, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, who seems to be running as hard as he can. This unique achievement of building momentum while seeming to stand still is being accomplished by calling in IOUs gathered over four decades of public service to the nation. A coterie of politicians dissident from the mainstream political groupings, some genuinely elected representatives, but mostly those who made it on party coattails, are beating a steady path to the Presidential doorstep to pledge their allegiance and exhorting him to continue guiding the destiny of the nation for another five years. In the meantime the two major political groupings, the IJI and the PDA, along with the smaller NDA conglomerate of parties have yet to declare their intentions. In general, the vast majority of elected representatives have held their peace. If the incumbent President was not such an experienced hand at political manipulations or did not have the patience of the Sphinx, his silence would have been ominous.

The Office of the President of Pakistan is constitutionally supposed to be neutral as in any country having a constitutional head. It can be occupied by any person, political or non-political who is supported by majority of the elected representatives. In a parliamentary form of democracy, the role of the President is to be a father (or mother) figure who is even-handed in his/her dealings with all their “political children”. On the death of Gen Ziaul Haq, Gen Aslam Beg as VCOAS decided, in consultation with his senior military colleagues, not to go for the obvious route of martial law but to adopt the constitutional course (He now exists as a sorry example to the Armed Forces for having done the correct thing). The then Speaker of the Senate, Ghulam Ishaq Khan, thus succeeded the late Gen Zia as the President of Pakistan. Since the results of the ensuing general elections in November were not conclusive, Ms Benazir had to cut a deal wherein President Ishaq was duly elected by the support of both the major political groupings in the electoral college comprising of the old Senate as well as the newly elected National and Provincial Assemblies. Quiet pressure was used but in deference to posterity, the constitutional exercise was carried out correctly to its democratic conclusion. To sustain democracy, however, the undemocratic “troika” arrangement wherein the COAS became a member of the power structure came into unofficial being.


The reconciliation process

The PPP’s Long March of November 18, 1992 was the symbolic low-point of Government-Opposition relations during the Nawaz Sharif Regime. In keeping with normal Pakistani practices there was over-reaction on both the sides. Unfortunately for PPP, while their logistics (and media targeted histrionics) exercise to “storm the National Assembly” and bring down the government by the force of street power was taken by the public generally as excess, fortunately for the Government their commensurate excess in trotting out an overwhelming show of force was tolerated by the public as a necessary deterrent in keeping the public peace. By ensuring a massive police turnout and plentiful supply of tear gas, police firing was avoided by the Government. That effectively shut out the use of the “dead body” card, a useful though macabre mechanism in the third world to keep the political momentum going. Without that particular ingredient, the PPP strategy stood exposed as being bankrupt. When the people are not willing to support change, no will can change the government of the day. Even extra-constitutional measures e.g. martial law, dissolution of the assemblies without valid reason, etc can seldom be normally sustained unless it is backed by the popular will.

When you take matters to a head and fail to succeed, there is bound to be a reaction. When boxers fail to connect with their killer punch there is usually a short unbalanced period when the opponent can take advantage. Most political leaders are used to “the loneliness of the long distance runner” and keep a steady pace, in sprinting at an inopportune moment they are liable to tire themselves out of the competition. In light of what we know today of Ms Benazir’s medical condition, we are wiser about why this untimely confrontation was hurriedly forced by the PPP in November. To compound it, for the first time in two years in the cold, the Opposition is facing a crisis because of a political initiative rather than coping with normal bureaucratic measures, political action being chosen by the IJI as the best expedient to counter Ms Benazir’s Opposition. This has caused severe dislocation and disarray within the ranks of the PPP who are accustomed to being subjected to administrative high handedness and were thus taken unawares by the IJI ploy. Regimes usually rely on bureaucratic shenanigans to sustain their rule. Ms Benazir’s acceptance to be the Chairperson of the Foreign Relations Committee of the National Assembly gave the tacit and de facto recognition to the very assemblage she was (and is still) decrying as illegal. There is disillusionment among her PDA allies on her “solo flight” as well as the first general murmurings of discontent within the party faithful against any Bhutto, evoking rather shrill and vehement denials about a “deal” being struck between the PPP and the Government, not made easier by the face value of the coincidence of Asif Zardari’s release on bail and his departure for London. The PDA (and NDA) leaders have a sour taste in the mouth at thus being seemingly used for an individual and selfish purpose. A strong, vibrant Ms. Benazir could have easily put paid to such rumours, unfortunately she has gone through a complicated pregnancy due to an erring gall bladder and has had to undergo a Caesarean for a premature child birth. With Ms Benazir hors de combat the field is thus left alone for the IJI’s blade runners. Given such pleasing political circumstances, the IJI’s various factions seems to be reverting to doing their normal thing, trying to cut each other’s throats. This is particularly true of the group that has no real electoral standing and have relied on bureaucracy or martial laws to prop them up, they tend to support the President, mostly without his reverse blessings. However, with the Presidential sweepstakes imminent, this faction, within and outside the cabinet, has a revived purpose in life, having suffered the ignominy of being ignored and sidelined for over 2 years.


Pathfinder’s column The inner circle

The induction of a new leader to a position of authority in any system means that he or she brings along a coterie of official and unofficial advisors. Those having official status are put into critical positions while those having unofficial status assume the posture that goes with their personalities, an extrovert chooses a high profile while a more moderate person adopts a more subdued role. A hard core of these people form the “kitchen cabinet”, they are expected to give independent counsel and advice, to act as honest brokers, without fear of their submissions being rejected and/or arousing the wrath of their mentor. The person in authority thus has access to various options, he has a great advantage of being able to discern and amplify the logic behind every course and above all be aware about the people’s true perceptions about his actions. Lucky indeed is that leader who has the benefit of men of integrity and intelligence around him, people who have confidence in him and themselves, those able to render counsel and advice without fear or favour, above all people who do not have vested interest or suffer from an inferiority complex. Genuine patriotism requires the ability to state truths for the national good, to have character that can stand against the wind even when it becomes a storm. The greatest service that an inner coterie can do for their leader is to keep him or her informed about the mood of the national mainstream. The best known among anyone’s “kitchen cabinet” was Harry Hopkins, a Roosevelt confidante, who inspite of his unofficial status was the surest conduit to Churchill, Stalin and other world leaders in World War 2.

The “kitchen cabinet” can transform the personality of their leader from good to bad, from bad to worse or even reverse the process. Since they have the ear of the person in authority in his more relaxed moments, he is more amenable to their advice, most actions usually stem from the last counsel heard, right or wrong. Such people are in a position of great influence and to a great extent it is their policies that become official articulation, such is their dominance. They also have the ability, because of their nearness to the top, to sanitize him completely from those whom they do not want their leader to hear, thus ensuring that he or she does not listen to conflicting advice. If their leader is not a voracious reader of newspapers and magazines, then only clippings that carry their message are permitted for his or her perusal. This ensures that the person in authority is malleable only to that message that they would like him to put forth, those with vested interest can go to any lengths to ensure this course. They create an iron curtain around their leader which puts them out of touch with reality. Two centuries later after Marie Antoinette, some of our leaders are so sanitized in their ivory towers that they really do not have their pulse on the mood of the masses and are likely to come out with a similar directive of letting the masses “eat cake” instead of bread. The most famous single personality to have dominating influence at a critical time of history was Rasputin’s hold over the Russian royal family. In fact, though he is reviled by history, Rasputin’s advice was making the monarchy gradually take into account the feeling of the masses. This was not seen too kindly by the aristocracy, he was murdered. Some of the people in our short history are responsible for so much wrong advice given at critical times about crucial issues that one would have been happy to see them consigned to history more or less in the same manner.


Killing with kindness

On September 29, 1993 former Chief Minister of Punjab, Ghulam Haider Wyne, and close associate of Mian Nawaz Sharif, was assassinated near Mian Channu while doing the rounds of his election campaign. According to reports, his Pajero was stopped by some obstruction on a culvert, the tyres were shot out, his driver and companion were ordered out of the vehicle and then he was brutally murdered after being dragged out of the Pajero.


The Zurich factor

When the Romans established a Custom House at one of the ends of Lake Zurich in 15 BC, little did they realize that one day the city they thus founded would become one of the leading financial capitals of the world, certainly the wealthiest. By the 11th century, Zurich was developing into an important trade centre but it was by the 15th century that the shape of this wealthy metropolis in financial importance started to form. Today, this city is one of the greatest crossroads of capital and anybody seeking investment must pay homage to the merchants of Zurich (and thus Switzerland and a fair part of post-cold war Europe) by evoking their interest.
The Pakistanis came to town to invite investment in Pakistan armed with a new confidence taking hold of the economy. By concentrating on the economy in the first crucial period of his government, Nawaz Sharif instilled a priority that is now bearing economic fruit and for which posterity will give him unreserved plaudits. By a combination of privatisation, deregulation and liberalization of the economy, the present Government set out to undo the devastating economic policies that late Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s PPP regime annunciated in the early 70s and which set back Pakistan’s economy a few decades. At the same time the present Government had to roll back the bureaucratic practices established in the 50s and 60s, import licencing and foreign exchange restrictions contributing to the stifling of economic growth, helping only the few engaged in lining their pockets. The first two years, till December 1992, have been a difficult transition period, not helped at all by the recalcitrance of the bureaucracy and by the devastating floods of last Autumn. Through it all, the positive indicators have continued to rise unabated, a reflection of this was seen in the Investment Seminar arranged by the Pakistan Investment Board in Dolder Grand Hotel in Zurich on January 27, 1992.
From the time that the hall overflowed to capacity and extra seats had to be brought in, it was clear that the organisation of the exercise was a resounding success. The gathering assembled spoke for itself economically. The major Multi-nationals were represented by at least two, even three senior executives. There were representatives from the industry and commercial sector but the greatest indicator of the interest that the Pakistan economy has generated, could be seen by the presence of a large contingent from the financial sector. Out of the 180 companies represented as many as 25 were banks and financial institutions. This was extremely significant as there is nothing that arouses the Swiss more than the smell of money. The gnomes of Zurich cast a tremendous vote of confidence in Pakistan’s economy by turning up in strength. There are certain things that can be arranged, the demonstration of financial confidence does not fall into that category. This was genuine and unadulterated, it was the surest indicator that Pakistan’s economy was coming of age.