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Archive for August, 1993

Free Enterprise System

It is clear from the manifesto of the Pakistan Muslim League that free enterprise has pride of place in future economic planning. The PPP will also almost certainly give support to such a philosophy in its own manifesto (to be announced on Sept 1) though it may be modified somewhat in light of its more socialist penchant for a mixed economy. The thrust of both the major political groupings will be towards a liberalised economy, to continue the move away from the shackles of a public sector dominated version. If past experience is any measure the PML will proceed pell mell with their liberalising drive, the PPP would opt for the same substance but in a more gradualised form. Given that a vast majority of the populace now subscribes to the concept of free economy as is the fashion in the changing Third World, should we completely abandon the checks and balances that protect those of our citizens who are of underdeveloped and backward areas or should our initiatives be more gradual? While maximum weightage has to be given to a liberal economy, given the level of our literacy and the state of our backwardness of the rural areas and inner cities, some element of public sector involvement is necessary.

Merit is at the heart of a free economy system. The meaning of freedom in enterprise is self-explanatory with regard to merit, quality must prevail. The race for ultimate rewards in the field of commerce and industry ensures that there is upward mobility with respect to quality, the better mousetraps will attract the maximum customers. This is the essence of free enterprise, uninhibited competition with success going to whoever can prevail upon his/her competitors on the basis of merit and competitive pricing, whether it be a consumer product, commodity, machinery or even an individual. Centralized economies and public sector control takes the essence of competition out of the system, this cuts into quality. If the State has to produce toothpaste as a monopoly, why should they bother if it should taste like chalk to its citizenry. Without incentive, they have no ambition. In a free enterprise system, toothpaste manufacturers would go bankrupt if the citizens should turn away from their product/s and as such they have to be sensitive to the choice of the masses. Competition is necessary to ensure quality, without competition economies are destined to a socialistic doom. The collapse of COMECON is a living witness to the ineptitude of a system where reward was based on the selective interpretation of loyalty and personal preferences rather than giving preponderance to the qualifications of talent and merit. An interesting analogy in human relationship would be about a family that believes in inter-marriage i.e cousins marry among each other, the end result is degeneration, even the genes need to compete to produce a better product, in this case a human being. How many times have we come across villages full of the retarded because of inter-marriages generation after generation?

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How to Rob Banks, Pakistan Style

The President issued an Ordinance late Friday evening amending the Banking Laws on confidentiality that was preventing the Pakistan Banking Council (PBC) from publishing the full list of loan defaulters including those who had their loans written off. Among the many bold acts of the Caretaker PM uptil now, this has been the most courageous by far. It is a clear indicator that the man means business, Moeen Qureshi’s present initiative can only be exceeded if he makes public the list of drug barons and their contacts in the various walks of life in Pakistan.

Those who are electoral candidates among the loan defaulters have uptil Sept 13 to clear their dues to be eligible for taking part in the general Elections. Since the list reads like a Who’s Who of the elite it is a safe bet that the non-politicians among the list must be cursing the fate that brought Moeen Qureshi to the fore and front in Pakistan. One hears a good deal of muttering about “exceeding his mandate” being bandied about. It is, therefore, safe to presume that this act will not go unchallenged, legally and extra-legally, by those who have plundered the financial institutions at will. The bank robbers committing armed dacoity in Pakistan have not managed to together equal even one-third of the figure written off on “merit”, Rs 1.50 billion, what to talk about the total default of Rs 60 billion, nearly US $ 2 billion.

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How to rob bank, Pakistan style

The President issued an Ordinance late Friday evening amending the Banking Laws on confidentiality that was preventing the Pakistan Banking Council (PBC) from publishing the full list of loan defaulters including those who had their loans written off. Among the many bold acts of the Caretaker PM uptil now, this has been the most courageous by far. It is a clear indicator that the man means business, Moeen Qureshi’s present initiative can only be exceeded if he makes public the list of drug barons and their contacts in the various walks of life in Pakistan.

Those who are electoral candidates among the loan defaulters have uptil Sept 13 to clear their dues to be eligible for taking part in the general Elections. Since the list reads like a Who’s Who of the elite it is a safe bet that the non-politicians among the list must be cursing the fate that brought Moeen Qureshi to the fore and front in Pakistan. One hears a good deal of muttering about “exceeding his mandate” being bandied about. It is, therefore, safe to presume that this act will not go unchallenged, legally and extra-legally, by those who have plundered the financial institutions at will. The bank robbers committing armed dacoity in Pakistan have not managed to together equal even one-third of the figure written off on “merit”, Rs 1.50 billion, what to talk about the total default of Rs 60 billion, nearly US $ 2 billion.

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The Package

When Moeenuddin Qureshi was selected by consensus as a neutral person who would be a credible Caretaker PM entrusted with the responsibility of holding free and fair elections in the country, the internationally renowned economist factor was taken as an additional plus point to deal with an economy in dire financial straits. In less than a month he has put in motion for implementation such politically tough decisions that we used to write and dream about. For many years the vast majority of the people of Pakistan have suffered while their leaders have dithered and played politics about doing the right thing, suddenly out of the blue comes a person who not only promises to do the correct thing, he proceeds to act upon them. Unfortunately the financial cupboard is so bare, his parallel economic decision to increase prices across the board will effect the masses who will have to bear further privation due to commensurate rise in prices of essentials. This burden may become politically unbearable despite the obvious necessity in the adverse economic circumstances.

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The Intent of Fairplay

The Caretaker Government is committed to holding free and fair elections in Pakistan, to that end there has been a very deliberate choice of neutral personalities in forming the Administration at the Federal and Provincial level. Strict neutrality is a commitment of the Caretaker PM. Less than one month into the Caretaker period and less than two months before the October elections, the carefully nurtured perception of impartiality has taken a very hard knock in Sindh.

Independence Day 1993 was initially touted as the day of launching campaigns by the major political parties, knowledgeable speculation was that the two chosen symbolic points of departure would be the Quaid’s Mazar and the Pakistan Memorial by the PML (N) and PPP respectively. While the PML (N) applied for permission from the local Karachi administration on 5 August, requesting for a procession culminating in a public rally at the Quaid’s Mazar, the PPP immediately made a similar request. Faced with the possibility of clashes, the Civil Administration imposed Sec 144 and refused permission for both the rallies. In an advanced stage of preparation in contrast to the fairly low level of interest shown by the PPP, the PML (N) felt aggrieved that they had been badly treated. Notwithstanding the lack of permission, Nawaz Sharif did come to Karachi, did lead a long slow moving procession from the Airport to the Quaid’s Mazar and did address a 20,000 plus crowd at 3 O’clock in the morning of August 15, 1993, without any interference from the Civil administration, a benign indifference after the flat refusal that showed good sense in hindsight and stopped further erosion of the Caretaker’s moral authority about neutrality.

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The Murtaza Factor

Begum Nusrat Bhutto, Co-Chairperson of the Pakistan People’s Party, has announced that her self-exiled son Murtaza Bhutto will contest in the October Elections for both the National Assembly and Provincial Assembly from Sindh for several seats. While it is expected that he will return to the country after the Elections, speculation had been rife for some time that Murtaza would return and take his place in the political life of the country. The only deterrent to his immediate comeback being apprehensions about possible arrest for the many allegations of terrorism that have been preferred against him over the years.

Anticipating the worst for the father, the two sons, Murtaza and Shahnawaz were sent out of Pakistan by the family for the sake of their personal safety while barely out of their teens. As the sons of any father should, they vowed vengeance on Gen Zia and his Martial Law Administration for what they perceived to be murder. The terrorism issue surfaced in the early 80s after the PIA hijacking in which Capt (Retd) Tariq Rahim, formerly ADC to late Mr Bhutto, was brutally murdered at Kabul Airport by the hijackers. Since the hijacking was done in the name of Al-Zulfikar and the sons of Mr Bhutto had come to Kabul Airport to meet the hijackers a conclusion was drawn about their collaboration. It may be remembered that Ajmal Khattak of NAP, who was in self-exile in Kabul at that time, was also alleged to be involved. This was more conjecture than direct evidence but it did serve to establish Al-Zulfikar as a terrorist organisation and the “smoking gun” at Kabul associated Bhutto’s sons with the planning and execution of its operations in the 80s decade. There is always a fine line dividing terrorism from a fight against oppression. At various times, Afghan KHAD, the KGB, Libyans, Syrians, Indian RAW, etc have been identified as financing and controlling Al-Zulfikar’s operations. Murtaza and Shahnawaz (till he died) roamed around as international refugees unable to return home. The terrorism charge made it increasingly difficult for them to travel between countries.

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A Mango Republic?

In every country of the world, patronage is built into the system in some form or the other. In the developed countries where democracies are stable and accountability is a part of the system, the potential for favouritism for material or monetary gain may be severely circumscribed but is still very much present. Denis Thatcher was eulogised for being an obsequious husband of the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, however son Mark was ostracised by the media for any number of major business deals. In countries of the Third World where leaders depend upon a small coterie of the rich and powerful for the acquisition and sustenance of power, there is virtually no dependence upon the masses. A Client-Patron relationship becomes much more part of the system than in developed nations. The cycle of favours ensures continuation of power, patronage ensures a mutual loyalty born out of the need for survival. The disease of patronage is not confined to Pakistan alone, that it has become rampant in this country over the past two decades does make this country a part of a more select group of nations as far as nepotism and corruption is concerned. We used to poke fun at the “Banana Republics” of Latin and South America, today we are not much different in style as well as content. As nationalists we should use our national fruit as a symbol in being labelled as a “Mango Republic” or at least being well on the way to its becoming.

The most insidious form of patronage in this country is the allotment of plots and the sanctioning of loans. Recently the Lahore High Court has taken suo-moto action to ask for details of all the plots allotted by the Chief Ministers of Punjab since 1985, the Martial Law Administration (1977-1985) having taken care to have all its actions validated and not being subject to questioning (whether any illegal acts of commission by responsible people in public office can ever be so condoned on the point of a gun is a matter of debate and conjecture but not the subject of this article). Given 1985 as a marker for discovering the wholesale gift sale of public property, the learned Judge of the Lahore High Court, Mr. Tiwana, should at the very least question the CMs about what great public service the beneficiaries performed to deserve the largesse. In order to ensure fairplay, the same exercise should be carried out in the Federal Territory and all the other Provinces. Prima-facie it would seem that many of the allottees do not even have correct addresses or have more than one plot. One wealthy and influential gentleman residing in KDA is the beneficiary of as much as 12 CM-bestowed plots, albeit in different names. It would not seem out of place as to question how such a farce was contrived and enacted by leaders who unabashedly proclaim themselves guardians of public morality and should have known better i.e. if they feel any fiduciary responsibility to the masses they were pledged to serve selflessly. Besides being an act of corruption, it is sheer hypocrisy.

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The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Flyer

Air Marshal (Retd) Asghar Khan, Chief of Tehrik-i-Istiqlal (TI), has recently written a letter to the Head of the Pakistan Democratic Alliance (PDA), Ms Benazir Bhutto, severing the relationship established in the autumn of 1990 to fight the IJI in the October 1990 elections. While the Air Marshal participated whole-heartedly in the anti-Ghulam Ishaq Khan/Nawaz Sharif campaign till November 1992, it was clear that he had reservations about the Ms Bhutto-conceived Long Marches. However, it was the newly formed Bhutto relationship with Ghulam Ishaq Khan in April 1993 that seemed to upset Asghar Khan to the point of eventual parting. It was clear that while he was determined to unseat what he perceived to be a fraudulently elected government, he felt that a show of force would bring about a confrontation that would bring third forces into the fray. He considered that democratic dialogue could be held with Nawaz Sharif as opposed to GIK, the epitome of the Establishment. Ms Bhutto was single-mindedly pursuing one Aim, the holding of mid-term elections and in maintenance of that Aim she had successfully created a cleavage between GIK and Nawaz Sharif by first negotiating with the latter and then feeding on the fears of the former by embellishing on the dialogue as a Nawaz Sharif-means to rid the country of GIK’s Presidency. Whatever may be her methods to achieve her ends, she has been eminently successful. To quote Mikhail Bakunin (1814-1976), “In politics as in high finance, duplicity is a virtue”. Unfortunately for the well-respected former Chief of the Pakistan Air Force, his total life is replete with a penchant for high morals and ideals, qualities that are in short supply in political persona all over the world, in Pakistan it is a rarity that qualifies the few as being “endangered species”.

By opting out of the mainstream alliance, Air Marshal Asghar Khan has again gone into the political cold, a situation with which this old flyer is quite familiar since his advent into politics. As reported by Altaf Gauhar, late President Ayub felt Asghar Khan to be more “dangerous” than Bhutto in the anti-Ayub campaign of 1968 as he would not enter into any dialogue that would compromise any move towards genuine democracy. In a sense this was a compliment of sorts because Ayub equated Bhutto with other politicians and therefore malleable, having served with Asghar Khan in the Armed Forces he well knew that this man’s integrity could not be subverted or compromised. One must hasten to add that late Bhutto also remained intransigent about any compromise during this period.

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The Campaign Commences

Over the past few months the Quaid’s Mazar has been the subject of more attention than usual what with governments falling and forming. The Mazar makes for a good photo-opportunity, transient dignitaries find it necessary to do homage on Prime Time TV. To launch their election campaign, PML Nawaz Sharif Group chose the Mazar as their point of departure to coincide with Independence Day celebrations. While it was widely believed that PPP would launch their campaign from the Pakistan Memorial at Lahore, as soon as they heard about the PML (N) decision, they also decided that the Mazar would be their choice also. Frankly, it is unfair that they are being equated even for consideration but one supposes the Administration can read the PPP writing on Sindh’s walls.

While it is too early to really see anything emerging from the political kaleidoscope before the full list of candidates comes before us and electoral alliances/adjustments are complete, the PPP has got off to a fast start as they have been working towards a mid-term election for some time and have the necessary grassroots organisation. With their own shakedown now complete after taking stock of the breakaway factions, the PML(N) is putting together an extremely comprehensive and potent campaign mechanism. Spearheading the effort is the indefatigable Senator Sartaj Aziz as Acting Secretary General and Mushahid Hussain as Information Secretary. With these capable and hand-picked Nawaz loyalists as the nucleus, the PML campaign is now taking form and shape. One is struck by the sophistication of the effort being organised, in contrast to the disinformation and negative exercise that was conducted the last two times around, the present set-up gives an assured and mature complexion to the hurly-burly of the projected campaign ahead. Nawaz Sharif has shown an unerring instinct for choosing the right persons for critical posts (barring one or two glaring exceptions) and the Sartaj Aziz/Mushahid combine is in stark contrast to the better organised but frenetic appearance of the Bhutto campaign.

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The Perception of Impartiality

To end the political impasse that was rapidly bringing the country to economic apocalypse as well as civil war conditions, the COAS Pakistan Army Gen Waheed brokered an agreement between the President and the PM that accepted the demand of the Opposition for the conduct of free and fair mid-term elections. A significant part of the unpublicised agreement was that the COAS became the guarantor of the terms accepted by all the sides. The former PM felt that as long as the President was able to carry out extra-constitutional interference in the day to day running of the country, fair elections were hardly possible. GIK and the Opposition reciprocated this mutual feeling of distrust as long as the former PM called the shots in the Federal Government. As the ultimate compromise it was agreed that both the President and the PM would step down in favour of a generally neutral regime. The Army’s role as guarantor would hopefully restrict the propensity of the various security agencies to influence the results in the manner that they would deem fit.

The choice of Moeenuddin Qureshi to head the Caretaker Regime was motivated out of a genuine need to have an impartial non-controversial but effective person responsible for the affairs of Pakistan in the interim period. That the Caretaker PM is a man of some international stature and known integrity as well as a world respected economist was an additional plus point. There are those who decry his lack of experience within Pakistan but in the present state of extreme polarisation where anybody who is anybody has got involved in one way or the other with one side or the other, one considers that particular “inexperience” to be a necessary virtue. Spelling out his first priority as the holding of free and fair elections in Pakistan, Moeen Qureshi gave out the sorry state of our economy as his second priority. This dual capability is a bonus for Pakistan. On a brief private visit to Washington for a medical check-up, the PM kept up a busy schedule of official engagements arranged at short notice, primarily including US Vice President Al Gore and the major international finance institutions, the World Bank and the IMF. Before leaving for the US, Mr. Moeen Qureshi laid the base for the concept of impartiality by inducting into Cabinet office such eminent persons as are generally considered to be without any party affiliations, both in the Federal and Provincial set-ups. With respect to his choice, to his credit there has been no criticism as yet. A number of subsequent steps need to be taken to ensure that the concept of neutrality remains paramount throughout the election process and the capacity of those who are past masters of subverting a neutral process to their nefarious designs is restrained.

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