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Archive for March, 1993

Open Skies

While an “Open Skies” policy is a natural extension of the government’s liberalisation programme, deregulation of the aviation industry has been one of the most significant of the Nawaz Government’s initiatives. This two-pronged foray creates a new dynamics (“let a hundred flowers bloom”) in the body economic of Pakistan, serving to propel a wider percentage of our masses pell mell into the twentieth century’s technological marvels and its benefits thereof, albeit in its very last decade. Just before Eid, a private airline announced inaugural operations on one of the most travelled aerial sectors in Pakistan, Karachi-Islamabad-Karachi. Hajvairy Airlines thus become the first to break PIA’s monopoly of the domestic aerial routes, one hopes that more private airlines will follow to open up shuttle services on the pattern available in most western countries between the key major cities. Expectations that the advent of more aviation companies would mean the death knell for PIA are patently incorrect, this should act as a tremendous boost for the national airline. Bereft of a marker for evaluation, PIA has suffered in the lack of comparison thereof. PIA’s competitive spirit would be aroused to cater for survival in the new dynamics.

The government must ensure that an “Open Skies” policy should have reciprocity as a fundamental principle. Take the example of Kenya, which sells us tea worth more than US150 million annually and purchases virtually nothing in return. Despite the fact that Kenya Airlines comes to Karachi, they have not given PIA the requested landing rights (only) on the way to Johannesburg. This is taking undue advantage of the “Open Skies” policy to the detriment of PIA (and the nation). The government must impose mandatory sanctions against those who do not reciprocate our liberal generosity. The other factor is that socio-economic factors rather than commercial factors govern present operation on many of PIA’s domestic routes, that handicap must be adjusted against the balance when assessing PIA’s performance vis-a-vis private airlines who will only be governed by commercial parameters.


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.


The Last Hurrah

The word “principle” is usually missing from the epithet-laden vocabulary of Pakistani politics, not so in the case of the lately lamented former Prime Minister of Pakistan and President of Pakistan Muslim League, Mohammad Khan Junejo. Brought in essentially as a puppet on a string by the late Gen Zia in his version of democracy, the late Junejo displayed his mettle by quietly refusing to let the vestiges of Martial Law survive with democracy. He made up for a singular lack of charisma by the sheer strength of his character, setting accountability in motion in a society afflicted with the Unaccountable by sacking some powerful Cabinet colleagues against whom there was prima-facie evidence of corruption. A man of old world courtesy and grace, his opponents found it impossible to criticise him on weaknesses normally attributable to politicians. The Geneva Accord on Afghanistan in the face of late President Zia’s inflexibility on key issues was Junejo’s most memorable foreign policy achievement, on the domestic front he left a lasting impression about the only genuine initiative in Pakistani history about austerity by his symbolic Suzuki-isation programme. Late Gen Zia ostensibly sacked him as PM because of Junejo’s determination to take action for those criminally culpable for the Ojhri Camp blast, in reality the senior members of the bureaucracy who could not stomach any more erosion of their service “perks” worked toward (and benefited most from) his ouster. Lying sick with terminal Leukemia in far away John Hopkins Hospital in USA, he had unknowingly become a bone of contention within the PML, a rallying point for the anti-Nawaz Sharif dissenters. His demise is thus extremely untimely as he could have stemmed the self-destruction mode the PML is presently programmed into.

Inaugurating the Fish Harbour at Gwadar, the Prime Minister made the first public move at checking the rot in his government (and PML internal politics from rapidly resembling a fish market) by denying any rift between him and the President. Where there is smoke there is bound to be a fire and while his categorical denial was quite unbelievable given the regular one-way traffic to the President by a mix of political dissenters at odds between themselves but united in their hate-Nawaz chorus, the symbolic waving of the white flag was quite welcome and showed political maturity. Whatever may be the President’s misgivings, the ball is now firmly in his court to reciprocate.


Merit as a Disqualifier

A system that accepts patronage as the primary factor governing upward mobility must eventually collapse. To compound the situation, the beneficiaries of a Client-Patron relationship have to resort to corruption and nepotism to sustain themselves within the system. This is done to the detriment of talent and merit, striking at the very root of efficiency and achievement. Negating the principle of fair-play and justice in evaluating performance and capability sets in motion a process that eventually destroys the system from within. It puts pressure on the working of any body, administrative, corporate, etc, giving ground to a vicious circle of endemic inefficiency and mal-administration. When individuals without merit become the arbiters of future recruitment, they tend to select people in their own image, force-multiplying the process of self-destruction. Very much like continuing inter-marriage between blood relations leads to mental and physical retardation, patronage leads to debilitation of the system.

Patronage militates against accountability, the lack of it sustains the capacity of the corrupt and inefficient to perpetuate their domination. Talent and merit are never given the weightage they deserve except if it suits the plans of the UnGodly to gain some temporary advantage. The contribution of professionals is rarely recognized and they are usually cast away when not required any further. Since those who should effect accountability would themselves be its first subjects, it would hardly be reasonable to accept that they would blow a police whistle on themselves. The principle of accountability thus fails at the altar of greed and ambition. Once it becomes inherently clear to the honest and efficient that they will get a short shrift if they step out of line, they tend to merge themselves into the system, having a telling effect on the quality of service available. Capable and honest individuals with self-respect become the living dead, existing in deep apprehension out of the basic need of survival for themselves and their families. They watch in frustration as the organisation in which they work is systematically looted, while their talent and merit becomes a handicap for them, those qualities being treated as suspect. Most succumb to the age-old adage, “if you can’t fight them, join them”.


The rebirth of Lebanon

Lebanon was once a land of tranquillity, vineyards and orchards complementing a strong tourist based economy. Brimming with bustling sidewalk cafes, quaint hotels and souks, the port city of Beirut was rightfully called the Paris of the Middle East, the jewel of the Mediterranean, one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Renowned for excellent food, the superior Lebanese touch in its services made it a welcome playground for the rich and famous, a place for rich Arabs and wealthy Europeans for meeting, leisure and pleasure. Most of the mountain palaces overlooking the sea were converted into expensive, exclusive hotels. This once (upon a time) capital city of luxury is a historical crossroads between the East and the West, in its heyday Beirut had also become one of the World’s most important banking cities. Its daytime, sun-swept beaches gave way to the throbbing music of the nightclubs in the evening. Blissfully unaware of the catastrophe about to visit the region, Beirut, till 1975, could rightfully be called one of the most cosmopolitan cities on this Earth.


Big Leaders, Small People

As the year 1993 dawned in Pakistan, the destiny of the country was in the hands of three powerful men, President Ghulam Ishaq Khan, Prime Minister Mohammad Nawaz Sharif and the COAS, General Asif Nawaz Janjua, otherwise known as the “TROIKA”. Barely six months or so later, such is fate that all three have disappeared from the controls of the nation, at least one temporarily.

The first to go was Gen Asif Nawaz, his sudden heart attack and demise cut short an illustrious career, precipitating the crisis that saw the remaining two members of the “Troika” fight among themselves and ultimately relinquish their seats of power. To the former President’s chagrin this was on the prompting of the man hand-picked by him as the replacement for the late COAS. Before that Rubicon was crossed, the country has been reduced into political and economic shambles. For whatever it is worth, Ms Benazir Bhutto, who started the year in the political wilderness, seems to be the only beneficiary of having driven the country into this crisis. One believes that in winning a battle, she may be celebrating a bit too soon and may have lost the war. For the record, she has another shot at becoming the Prime Minister of the country. If she loses again, we can have another Long March.


NDI Report, a Clean Bill of Health

Addressing a Press Conference in the Sheraton Hotel in Karachi yesterday, the leader of the NDI delegation, which had come to Pakistan to observe the election process in Pakistan, gave it a general clean bill of health, to the visible disappointment of a large number of foreign correspondents gathered there. Reading a prepared statement, the former Foreign Minister of Turkey, backed up by his full delegation standing behind him, listed certain areas of concern but emphatically denied the allegations of rigging as alleged by the PDA. The NDI team did comment in muted tones about the powers of incumbency, particularly the bias of Pakistan TV, but when asked to compare this in consistency with other third world and Muslim countries, had only the pious hope to offer that democratic practices would improve there also.

What started as a pro-Bhutto exercise, at least in the minds of the people of Pakistan, has ended in a pro-Pakistan scenario. In the face of repeated charges by Ms Benazir about rigging by the Caretaker Government using shenanigans of different nature, the whole world was looking with great interest to the report of the NDI delegation. That they have given a favourable, though qualified, report reinforces the democratic process in Pakistan and allows it to proceed without being bogged down by wild and frivolous allegations bringing our whole electoral process into disrepute. The most pathetic incident happened off the record when a foreign journalist asked Ken Wollack, one of the leading members of the NDI team, whether “this report would go down well with Ms Bhutto’s Democrat friends in US Congress” particularly because the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs was founded by (and mainly made up of) members of the Democratic Party. Mr Wollack replied that while Former Vice President Walter F. Mondale, a leading US liberal Democrat, may be the Chairman, the delegation was made up of both Democrats and Republicans and that they were there as neutral observers and their observations were meant to be truthful and not meant to please anybody in particular, Republicans or Democrats. The suggestion here is that Ms Benazir’s friends in the US Congress, who have been very concerned at the reports of ballot rigging as reported by Ms Benazir herself, may find the variance with the NDI report disturbing.


The Consensus Factor

Two weeks into Ms. Benazir’s formation of the Federal Government, the political truce seems to be holding except for occasional sniping by over-zealous supporters of either side. This has been possible because of the remarkable transformation in the attitude of the leaders of both the major political groupings in contrast to both 1988 and 1990. The post-election moves seem to confirm that both the political groupings do not want to repeat the mistakes of the past. The Federal Government usually has the initiative with respect to bad faith, under critical cynosure the restraint exercised by the PPP across a broad front has been praiseworthy. Contrary to expectations their manner (or mannerisms) do not evoke any reproach, in return the PML(N), in keeping with Mian Nawaz Sharif’s excellent maiden speech as Leader of the Opposition, has reciprocated in good faith. It may not exactly be a “love-fest” as yet, at least sanity prevails and that is why there is peace on our part of Earth.

This peace is likely to be tested in the contest for President, the process of which started on Sunday last with the filing of nomination papers by various candidates. There is a good deal of uncertainty prevailing because of the lack of a clear majority by either side in electoral votes, the PPP-PML(J) combine has 171 electoral votes while the PML(N)-ANP alliance commands 170 electoral votes. With the JWP, BNM(M), NPP, PQP and most of the Minorities supporting the PPP, their count goes upto by 40 to 211 electoral votes. With another 22 confirmed votes of independents, the PPP-led alliance comes tantalisingly close to an outright victory (235 votes) by having 233 electoral votes.


Emerging Election Alliances

With about 50 days to go for the Elections, election alliances/electoral adjustments are now taking shape. While the final list of candidates will be a sure evidence of the actual compromises made, it is comparatively safe to give a broad outline of the emerging scenario pertaining to the effect that the alliances and adjustments may make on the eventual outcome.

The Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA), of which the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) is a major member, comes out intact, in fact adding to its original strength pre-April 18, 1993. It may have lost Tehrik-i-Istaqlal but has gained significantly because of the defection of PML (Junejo) faction led by Chattha from PML(N). Individual members of the Chattha Group are potent political beings (though Chattha himself may find it difficult to get re-elected) and will cause considerable problems for Nawaz Sharif in the Punjab and Sarhad. The PPP-JUI(F)-PML(J) combine in the NWFP has become a formidable force in its own right and a tough fight is expected with the PML(N)-ANP alliance. However, the Alliance is facing a lot of strain from the internal PPP problems about seat allocation. During the Balakh Sher Caretaker period and after, the Sindh Government under Muzaffar Shah (Pir Pagara faction of PML) had supported the anti-Nawaz Sharif forces because of GIK’s influence through son-in-law Irfanullah Marwat but in Sindh the PDA and PML (Pir Pagara) remained opposed to each other, a sort of an armed truce. In Sindh, the three contending forces are PPP predominantly, opposed by the Pir Pagara faction of PML and the MQM. PML(N) is almost non-existent but there are enough Nawaz Sharif supporters in every constituency to have nuisance value. The PPP really does not need any electoral alliance in Sindh but will probably leave out a few seats as a part of the general agreement with other parties. This will be a real sacrifice and will not be taken kindly by its rank and file, PPP seat aspirants are a vocal, aggressive lot.


Benefit of Doubt

Aziz Munshi temporarily succeeded in delaying the judicial process in the Supreme Court by his dedicated filibustering, if it had not been so annoying it would actually have been amusing. As it is he did not succeed in impeding the march of impatient history and since nothing fails more than failure, he has been temporarily consigned into oblivion from which no doubt he will soon rise Phoenix-like. It is most demeaning to see a man of substance squirm under the knowledge that his Brief his hollow, the pressure was such that he was reduced to dithering on reasons of no consequence to delay the inevitable. Aziz Munshi found himself symbolically in the dock in place of his Client and fighting a losing battle, he came off the worse for it. Defending the indefensible one has to accept the approbation that goes with it, in the face of adversity though, one must commend Mr Munshi in not resorting to the ultimate fall-back position, histrionics. That by far was his most saving grace, accepting with equanimity the historic Supreme Court verdict. The detailed judgement in the case is now more than overdue.

Flush with victory in the Supreme Court, in the face of existing realities which was his to lose if he faltered, eloquent Barrister Khalid Anwar seems to have gained an infallible reputation. With the utmost respect for the Honourable Judges of the Lahore High Court (LHC) one has to observe that in the matter of Elahi Vs Wattoo, it has led them to re-defining the meaning of limbo and opened up a legal Pandora’s box. The Province of Punjab finds itself in a state of suspended animation because of the Interim Order given by the LHC on Wednesday last as well the plea of Counsel Abdul Hafeez Pirzada of vertical bias and the application for shifting thereof. Born Again – Chief Minister Wattoo’s state is that of betwixt and between, as an incumbent not illegal but being insecure hardly stable. His new ally in the Governor’s House, PPP Stalwart and Presidential confidante, Altaf Hussain (not to be confused by the gentleman in London), finds his seat of power itself under threat. According to the Interim Order issued by the LHC, the Constitutional position in Punjab reverts to what it was before the Honourable Governor dissolved the Provincial Assembly (PA), with the stipulation of status quo, that the advice of the CM to dissolve is not to take effect nor can he give any such advice till further notice, to balance off it has been mandated that a vote of no-confidence moved by the Petitioners cannot be further processed. In effect it does not prevent MPAs other than Pervaiz Elahi, the Petitioner, from requisitioning the PA and proposing a vote of no-confidence in the CM, except that if its result could not be applied till a final decision of the LHC. According to our much differently interpreted Constitution, the Assembly is supposed to dissolve automatically at the expiry of 48 hours after the advice is tendered, this raised another anomaly promptly exploited by the Speaker. The pressure cockpit of political currents seemed to have rushed the Honourable Judges into a rather ambiguous position. One surmises respectfully that in hindsight the Honourable Judges would come to the conclusion that judicious discretion required a more thorough negotiation through this legal minefield to avert this potentially Catch-22 situation. One does not live for an instant under the impression that the motivation of the LHC was anything but sincere, however since one cannot please everybody with a Judgement, an Interim Order is twice complicated. It has opened up a window of opportunity for those who are prone to fomenting anarchy, this time by casting undue aspersion on the judiciary.