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Archive for August, 1994

Authoritarian rule

Alarmed by the rapid deterioration of the law and order situation in the former USSR, US FBI Director Louis J. Freeh recently visited Russia to coordinate wide-ranging measures and initiatives with his Russian counterparts to curb the gathering strength of the Russian origin criminals. Of particular concern is their overwhelming infiltration into commerce and industry of the former USSR, thereby providing them legitimate fronts to take over society. In the Russian capital alone, almost 200 banks have been taken over by criminal gangs, now universally called the Russian mafia. One incredulous bank chief was informed by unwelcome visitors who barged into his office that the bank’s equity would be doubled the following day and that he would have to make way for someone else. When he asked what he would get out of it, he was told “your life” and was given a bullet in a small case as a moment to remind him of his “good fortune”.

At least 70-80 banking and other senior commercial executives have been killed, murdered or kidnapped for ransom in Moscow alone. European trucking companies operating in the former socialist republic know that their goods and commodities are always at stake; they almost always have to pay ‘octroi’ as protection money to gangs specialising in highway robberies. Even then, ‘independents’ still manage to waylay many trucks and loot them. Moscow may have taken the lead in the extortion racket but in almost every city and town of the former USSR criminals are similarly extracting ‘protection’ money from the affluent and/or from commerce or industry. Richard Boudreaux writes in The Los Angeles Times that the Mayor of Vladivostok (population 6,00,000) has been sprayed with mace, locked in a car trunk and beaten unconscious as part of a power struggle with the Regional Governor who had him carried out bodily from the City Hall by police. The West has been alarmed by reports that nuclear material may have been stolen and smuggled from the former USSR. Recently, a person was held at Munich Airport with a vial containing 10 grams of weapons grade plutonium. Interestingly enough, an attempt was made to drag Pakistan into the controversy.

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Countdown (All Over) Again?

An expatriate Pakistani friend of ours rang up from the US recently to enquire whether it was safe to come home on leave to Pakistan as he had it on good authority that there would be trouble come September. Sad and frustrating though it was to hear bad news travelling so fast so far, it was hardly prophetic. Being immunized by the daily casualty figures of the MQM (A) – MQM (H) internecine warfare in Karachi, now further supplemented by the ever increasing Fiqah Jafria – SSP strife as representative of the collapsing social detente all over the country, one wonders what worse one could expect? The announcement by the Leader of the Opposition, Mian Nawaz Sharif, on Aug 14 in Karachi (repeated again in Islamabad on Aug 18) that he was hell-bent on bringing the government down, with the resignation of the Opposition (mainly PML (N) and ANP) Senators and MNAs from the Senate and NA Committees as a first step in demanding that the President and PM resign by Sept 11 or face a mass movement thereafter, one can hardly blame anyone for being pessimistic about the worsening security environment in Pakistan, both internally and externally. With obvious and automatic government reaction, the situation could escalate and the present bloodletting would be a Sunday school picnic in comparison to the bloodbath that is likely to ensue. A stage may well come that even if the Army steps in, they could not stem the slide into anarchy.

Any citizen dispassionately and deeply concerned about the present deteriorating economic, political and social climate, can hardly call the Opposition leader’s threat as fair but then in politics (as in war) nothing seems to be fair in Pakistan, there being extenuating circumstances that give some truth to his stubbornness. Ousted by a combination of guile and selfish interest, driven into a corner very much like had happened to Ms. Benazir, Mian Sahib in his turn in the cold, seems to be resolved that Ms Benazir must be repaid in the same coin. However, unlike Mian Nawaz Sharif, Ms Benazir does not have a hostile but a sympathetic President to contend with and since Gen Babar has “put the Army back in its place and they (the Army) do what the Government tells them to do”, quote and unquote, therefore (at least theoretically) no restless uniformed soldiers to contend with, given that we accept at face value such sweeping rhetoric. Having literally clawed their way back to power, it is highly unlikely that the President and/or the PM would oblige Mian Nawaz Sharif and go the resignation route he was forced to in July 93 in the “supreme interest of the country”. Double standards and separate yardsticks apply, almost in the same manner as one would fail to recognise an elephant just because he (or she) is wearing dark glasses or accept a person rapidly becoming one of the world’s leading billionaires without ostensibly doing any business, at least in the traditional sense of commerce.

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Entering the 21st Century

Within striking distance of the 21st Century, one must take stock of the situation whether we as a nation are going to enter it better or worse than we are today or we were yesterday. Saleem Ahmed, an Engineering Consultant by profession and a close friend, raised this philosophical question at another friend’s 50th birthday as to whether our children would hope for the same quality of life in the next 50 years that we have been privileged to enjoy for the past half century? For the most part, the answer is both yes and no, with sometimes a mixture of both. While the high tech available in the modern world is very much present in Pakistan, it is mainly in consumer necessities meant for the rich, it is in basic necessities that we are rapidly losing ground.

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The Doomsday Scenario Wattoo and Rwanda

Punjab Chief Minister, Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, has proved himself to be a wily politician and a capable administrator. Where Ghulam Ishaq Khan and late Jam Sadiq Ali, the last two great exponents of the Machiavellian brand of politics in the country, had the benefit of sweeping bureaucratic powers and ruthless force respectively, Punjab’s Sphinx (nobody ever remembers him smiling or showing any other emotion) rules over the roost with a small base of only 16 members of the PML (J) along with an equal number of independents and minority members who joined Wattoo post his accession to power. An increasingly frustrated 100 odd legislators of his nominal PPP allies are kept in the dark and the cold alternately, not to count the 100 odd legislators of his old ally, the PML (N), that he has kept at bay. A vociferous Opposition would love to have him for breakfast but take comfort in the fact that Wattoo has put the PPP in greater discomfort (and as a result, disarray). Hostage to Wattoo’s vacillations, the Punjab PPP rank and file are dissuaded from outright revolt because of the vital PML (J) support (7 NA seats) that props up the Centre.

Losing his own traditional seat in the last elections, Wattoo could only scrape through by the barest of margins in a constituency gifted to him by the PPP. Without casting aspersion on the personality of this able but devious man, one must recognize that this is essentially a reign of the minority over the majority, not the stuff of democracy. Wattoo safely remains in power through a combination of bluff, spreading of political largesse and the “Wattoo shuffle” (a constant movement of the political feet denying anyone a fixed target). On the other hand, the President of PML (J), Mr (holier-than-thou) Hamid Nasir Chattha, symbolically denies any lust for power by refusing cabinet posts but remains blissfully comfortable in blatantly imposing his minority faction over the PPP’s real right to rule in the Punjab.

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The doomsday scenario – Wattoo and Rwanda

Punjab Chief Minister, Manzoor Ahmad Wattoo, has proved himself to be a wily politician and a capable administrator. Where Ghulam Ishaq Khan and late Jam Sadiq Ali, the last two great exponents of the Machiavellian brand of politics in the country, had the benefit of sweeping bureaucratic powers and ruthless force respectively, Punjab’s Sphinx (nobody ever remembers him smiling or showing any other emotion) rules over the roost with a small base of only 16 members of the PML (J) along with an equal number of independents and minority members who joined Wattoo post his accession to power. An increasingly frustrated 100 odd legislators of his nominal PPP allies are kept in the dark and the cold alternately, not to count the 100 odd legislators of his old ally, the PML (N), that he has kept at bay. A vociferous Opposition would love to have him for breakfast but take comfort in the fact that Wattoo has put the PPP in greater discomfort (and as a result, disarray). Hostage to Wattoo’s vacillations, the Punjab PPP rank and file are dissuaded from outright revolt because of the vital PML (J) support (7 NA seats) that props up the Centre.

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The Pakistan Steel Story

By the mid-60s our economy was booming by comparable Asian standards but it was clear to the Pakistani economic planners that without a heavy industry we could never hope to become an industrial and/or economic giant. Therefore it was necessary to have our own integrated steel mill. 1968, the last year of Ayub Khan’s “Decade of Reforms”, saw the first concrete step taken towards that goal by registering The Pakistan Steel Mills Corporation (PSM) as a private limited company. In January 1971, an agreement was signed with the USSR by the much-maligned Yahya Khan Regime for technical and financial assistance in the construction of a coastal-based integrated steel complex. The events of 1971 interrupted further proceedings and it was not till almost three years later that the foundation stone of the single largest industrial complex in the country was laid in December 1973. As the Minister for Production in the Bhutto cabinet of the early 70s, PPP party theoretician, Secretary General and elder statesman J.A.Rahim guided the process towards early establishment. While there was no doubt that late Z.A.Bhutto was breathing down everyone’s neck in his enthusiasm and impatience to get the Steel Mills Project off the ground, it was late J.A.Rahim who successfully managed the inception to implementation stage, almost single-handedly ensuring the move of the location from Hawkesbay area to its present position at Pipri, thus avoiding an environmental disaster for Karachi. Late J.A.Rahim’s unceremonious exit as Party Secretary General and Minister for Production in 1975 threw the project off balance and it was not till 1976 that the construction work on the main plant was started. Looking back on it one must give credit to the first PPP regime for conceptual brilliance in bull-headedly pursuing this project against the analysis and professional advice of economic doomsayers.

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Resuscitating a City Let No One Write Karachi Epitaph

The last fortnight has witnessed a focussing of national priorities with the very visible personal intervention of the PM in coming to grips with the ever-increasing problems of this vast metropolitan port city. Present in Karachi because of a family tragedy, Ms Benazir herself also became a victim of the massive blackout that hit the Province of Sindh and the city of Karachi. The miseries of rain-induced power shortage were further accentuated by a series of mysterious fires in power houses and grid stations. It would have taken an extremely insulated ruler, or a callous one perhaps, to remain impervious to the rapidly declining state of this leaderless city. Galvanized into action, the PM phased her approach to first providing immediate succour and relief, succeeding in instilling some urgency into the efforts of the Administration and the public sector utilities responsible for the bad state of affairs in the first place. Very visibly she did not show much confidence in the Provincial Government politicos or functionaries. However, in adopting a narrow political approach instead of a pragmatic and logical course as a democratically elected leader of bringing the city’s elected representatives into the solution mainstream in trying to keep the city going down the tube, she cast doubt on the credibility of the whole exercise.

This city is running on sheer momentum. Operation Clean Up had driven the urban political cadres underground, creating a leadership vacuum exactly when such a leadership was desperately needed at the grassroots level. The major factor contributing to the present socio-political crisis has been the indifferent, inefficient and almost non-existent civil administration of this metropolis. A city management that has no commitment to the people can never succeed. Without central direction and bereft of its elected representatives at the grass-roots level, the city’s infra-structure has gone to seed, the peace of earlier years has now been compounded by ethnic and sectarian clashes, further complicated by the lawless who have taken advantage of the uncertain environment with a spate of dacoities, kidnappings for ransom, etc. Well directed in the rural areas, in the urban areas Operation Clean Up separated into two parallel operations, one directed by uniformed personnel, the other by the shadowy men in mufti, badly compromising the integrity of the original mission whose prime targets were to be dacoits and kidnappers. Certainly there were militants in the MQM who had gone way past the pale of the law and needed to be brought to heel but insincerity in the intent and objectives of the men in mufti in contrast to the overall strategic plan as laid out to the then political government ensured that the Army found itself in sole confrontation with the MQM in deviation from its original objectives. The MQM hierarchy compounded the situation by abandoning their responsibility to the masses lock, stock and barrel and going underground. In the resulting leadership vacuum, a new breed of militants surfaced providing enemy agencies such as RAW with a gleeful opportunity to create mayhem. Writing in THE NATION, we had advised the immediate closure of the Indian Consulate General in Karachi (A DEN OF EVIL, June 28, 1994), one hopes that after the SAARC Foreign Ministers Conference in Dhaka (which has just ended) this will be done without further delay. RAW agents from this well of snakes are spreading poison in Karachi’s bloodstream. On Sunday, August 31, 1994 a Swiss national, Mr Fritz Jasser, was shot dead by two motorcyclists while driving a diplomatic vehicle, such is the state of lawlessness.

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